The University of Alabama showed off renovations to Bryant Denny Stadium Thursday, Oct. 1, 2020. Sports Illustrated covers decorate the walls inside the new press box. [Staff Photo/Gary Cosby Jr.] Credit: Tuscaloosa News

As the media landscape continues to grapple with the emergence of artificial intelligence, Sports Illustrated appears to have given the technology a try. According to Futurism, S.I. has published multiple articles written by fake, AI-generated authors, with at least some of the articles themselves having been produced by AI.

Per Futurism, the articles disappeared after the outlet reached out to the magazine’s publisher, The Arena Group, which didn’t respond to requests for comment. Archived versions of the articles in question, however, reveal overly generic and robotic-sounding writing, including a review of volleyballs written by Drew Ortiz.

As Futurism notes, Ortiz has no apparent work history outside of his bylines at Sports Illustrated, and his headshot can be found on a website that sells AI-generated headshots. It also appears that Sports Illustrated would periodically scrub the apparently AI-generated writer profiles in favor of new ones.

“There’s a lot,” a source involved with the operation told Futurism of the fake authors. “I was like, what are they? This is ridiculous. This person does not exist.”

Another source confirmed to the outlet that in addition to the fake authors, the content, itself, was also the result of AI.

“The content is absolutely AI-generated,” the source said. “No matter how much they say that it’s not.”

Sports Illustrated‘s apparent use of AI is very similar to the kind of AI-generated content that members of the NewsGuild of New York accused the USA Today-owned website, Reviewer, of publishing last month. Earlier this year, Gannett paused its AI sports writing program following an embarrassing launch, while G/O Media has moved forward with publishing AI-generated content. As Futurism points out, similar operations appear to remain active elsewhere in The Arena Group’s portfolio, including on the financial website, TheStreet.

As AI technology becomes increasingly more prominent, it’s likely only a matter of time until it’s an accepted part of the sports media experience. Thus far, however, the use of AI in the industry has predominantly been premature and only resulted in embarrassment for well-established brands.

That now includes Sports Illustrated, which has seen no shortage of controversies since it was purchased by Authentic Brands Group and licensed to The Arena Group (formerly Maven) in 2019. It’s hard to imagine that the use of AI-generated content will do anything but continue to damage an already diminished trust from its audience.


About Ben Axelrod

Ben Axelrod is a veteran of the sports media landscape, having most recently worked for NBC's Cleveland affiliate, WKYC. Prior to his time in Cleveland, he covered Ohio State football and the Big Ten for outlets including Cox Media Group, Bleacher Report, Scout and Rivals.