Has any media enterprise had a faster fall from grace than Sports Illustrated?
I was thinking about starting out this article by trying to write like artificial intelligence would, but as it turns out, it’s really hard to write as bad as AI does. Plus, I’m a real person (that’s what an AI writer would say, I know) and want to keep my job. Consider this paragraph as that little box that you check online when it asks you to confirm you aren’t a robot.
If that robot check were a test that Sports Illustrated had to pass, it doesn’t look like they would have considering some shocking news that has come out of the once prolific sports magazine and journalism enterprise. Should we all that surprised that the company that often goes by “SI” was using “AI?”
And now, they are at the center of an “Internet Bonfire” (I just made that up but I feel good about it) as real people online are roasting them for having AI generated writers and stories on their website. Futurism first reported on the story, saying that they reached out to Sports Illustrated to comment on what they found on their site, and that the once popular sports brand responded by deleting everything.
But as you know, the internet is eternal, and someone grabbed some screenshots of the ridiculous things that Sports Illustrated had on their site and was trying to pass as “normal.” The two screenshots below from Sports Illustrated Reviews shows two “people” named Drew Ortiz and Sora Tonaka, along with their phony, made-up (likely by AI) biographies.
Somehow, someone read Ortiz’s biography and figured out that he wasn’t a real person. Read through this bio that was actually featured on the Sports Illustrated website and see if you can tell if it was made up:
“Drew likes to say that he grew up in the wild, which is partially true. He grew up in a farmhouse, surrounded by woods, fields, and a creek.
Drew has spent much of his life outdoors, and is excited to guide you through his never-ending list of the best products to keep you from falling to the perils of nature. Nowadays, there is rarely a weekend that goes by where Drew isn’t out camping, hiking, or just back on his parents’ farm.”
This Sports Illustrated story is wild.
The TLDR is that they bought AI-generated headshots and created fake writer profiles so they could publish AI-generated content and make it look real.
They then deleted the content when asked about it.
What a totally descriptive, not-generic-at-all biography for Drew Ortiz. The other fake writer on the site, Sora Tonaka, didn’t have one that was much better:
“Sora has always been a fitness guru, and loves to try different foods and drinks. She is fond of varying her workouts and believes everyone should participate in some sort of physical or mental activity at least three times per week!
Ms. Tanaka is thrilled to bring her fitness and nutritional expertise to the Product Reviews Team, and promises to bring you nothing but the best of the best.”
And the biographies weren’t the only red flags that led to people finding out about Sports Illustrated’s AI corner-cutting. The photos that they used for their writers were taken straight from an AI headshot marketplace, which are currently still for sale.
The stunt from Sports Illustrated has quickly caused the long-time journalism empire to scramble and try to save face, but they can rest easy knowing that there are plenty of faces for sale on the AI headshot marketplace.
Quick sidenote… is it even more egregious that it’s product reviews? I mean, it’s one thing to have AI rip off actual reporters to write quick game recaps, but in that situation, the facts are the facts, what happened in the game is what happened in the game, and no matter who writes it, a game recap will look sort of similar. But to write reviews on products you never even used because you’re not a real person (and probably generated revenue on with affiliate links) almost seems even more dishonest and scummy.
Sorry, I had to get in on the “Internet Bonfire” with rest of the people (again, real people) calling them out online:
Such an insane fall from grace. Used to treasure sports illustrated now it’s nothing.