I haven’t subscribed to Sports Illustrated since the 1990s. By then, the poetry had gone out of the games, and writers who could tell stories were left talking about contracts, scandals, and the corporatism that dominated the games. The ravenous maw of sports media chewed up the interesting personalities and spit them out, leaving a soulless shadow behind.
In its heyday, SI was home to the best English-language writers who used the magazine’s short form to create stunning masterpieces.
It was Frank Deford, Rick Telander, and Jim Murray’s “Backpage”, as well as a whole host of other writers who turned sports into poetry — epic poems that brought the reader to tears, anger, or laughter.
It was therefore with a mixture of sadness and anger that I read about SI’s betrayal of those writers. According to the site Futurism, SI used artificial intelligence-generated copy and AI-generated writer profiles and passed them off as real people.
Drew Ortiz was one such fake author. His biography didn’t make it seem like he wasn’t a regular human. His bio stated that he was a “Product Reviewer for Outdoors, Camping Backyard Games Hunting and Fishing”.
It read: “Drew is a lifelong outdoorsman and is eager to share his list of products that will keep you safe from the dangers of nature.” Drew spends most weekends camping, hiking, or on his parents’ farms.
Drew was nowhere to be seen in the real world.
Outside of Sports Illustrated, Drew Ortiz doesn’t seem to exist. He has no social media presence and no publishing history. And even more strangely, his profile photo on Sports Illustrated is for sale on a website that sells AI-generated headshots, where he’s described as a “neutral white young-adult male with short brown hair and blue eyes.”
The second source confirmed that “the content is 100% AI-generated, no matter what they claim.”
The Arena Group, which publishes Futurism, removed all of the AI-generated articles and bios after being confronted with the fake content by Futurism.
The Arena Group claims the fake content is “product reviews”, and that they are “licensed content” from a third-party, external company called AdVon Commerce.
Advon created “product reviews,” apparently in exchange for a payment from a company that sells a product. This type of advertising was called “reader ads” in the past. These were “news” stories disguised as newspaper copy.
The AI content is a shocking fall for Sports Illustrated. In the past, it won many National Magazine Awards for sports journalism, and featured works by literary giants from William Faulkner up to John Updike.
The Arena Group now manages parts of the magazine, which have become a Potemkin village, where fake writers are created out of thin air and outfitted with equally bogus bios and credentials to gain readers’ trust. They are then used to generate AI-generated purchasing guides, monetized through affiliate links that offer a financial reward to readers who click on them.
Advon played a game of insidious deception with its readers. Advon would often switch out AI-generated authors for another, and then simply swap author credit from old to new without making any announcement of the change.
The readers were not only unaware of the changes in credit for articles but also never informed of what content was created by AI.
Is this what the future holds? AI-generated stories will continue to be a part of the landscape as long as it is more profitable to make up stories than pay someone else to do so. AI will soon be able to generate as much writing as a large number of authors. Welcome to Brave New World.