Earlier this week, a story broke indicating that Sports Illustrated – – known commonly as “SI” – – had published articles generated by Artificial Intelligence – – known commonly as “AI” – – and much of the sports journalism world went bonkers. Inside the magazine itself there was a virtual all-hands meeting generating a lot of venting of spleen. It turns out that not only were the articles generated by AI, but they were also published under fictitious bylines. Here is some of what the mavens at SI put out in a statement designed to “clear things up”:
“Today, an article was published alleging that Sports Illustrated published AI-generated articles. According to our initial investigation, this is not accurate.
“The articles in question were product reviews and were licensed content from an external, third-party company, AdVon Commerce. A number of AdVon’s e-commerce articles ran on certain [of our] websites. We continually monitor our partners and were in the midst of a review when these allegations were raised.
“AdVon has assured us that all of the articles in question were written and edited by humans. According to AdVon, their writers, editors, and researchers create and curate content and follow a policy that involves using both counter-plagiarism and counter-AI software on all content. However, we have learned that AdVon had writers use a pen or pseudo name in certain articles to protect author privacy – actions we strongly condemn – and we are removing the content while our internal investigation continues and have since ended the partnership.”
Sports Illustrated used to be the paragon of sports publications. It was birthed in the 1950s by the same folks who provided the country with Time and Life magazines. SI did reporting; SI did investigations; SI dealt with serious issues; SI did “spoof pieces”. It was the best – – the emphasis here is on the word “was”. Magazines have been a medium in decline for a couple of decades now, but SI began its decline well before many other publications. I don’t know why, but over a short period of time in the 1980s, SI went from being in the “must-read-it-every-week” category to being in the “ho-hum” category. Maybe the emergence of ESPN on cable networks rendered some of the content in SI as “old news”; I must leave those sorts of analyses to historians and journalists.
I mention this because stories like the one that hit the streets earlier this week cannot be beneficial to a magazine that is clearly on the backburner of focus for sports fans. Someone asked me about a year ago which sportswriters were on my “Mount Rushmore”. Two of the four were regulars in Sports Illustrated back in its heyday. Now, if/when I read something in SI – – or on SI.com – – I have to wonder where it came from and who “wrote” it. That was never the case back in the day; the fact that it is now forever the case renders Si to a category of publications closer to Weekly World News than to the Washington Post.
So, we learned this week that SI and AI have some sort of intersection. What’s next? Is there a scandal to be brought to the fore where we learn that some of the models in the famous Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue have used AE – – Artificial Enhancement? Perish the thought…
Switching gears … It is commonplace to observe that the NFL is a “copycat league”. Indeed, when a player, coach or a team innovates successfully, others rush to emulate that innovation and thereby spread it around to other teams. Well, the NFL had its first in-season firing of a head coach at the start of November and its second in-season firing of a head coach at the end of November. So, the question in my mind separates into two parts:
- Is this a trend that other teams are going to copy?
- If so, which teams might consider firing which coaches?
Let me assume for a moment that we have not seen the last of the NFL’s in-season firings for the 2023 season. There are plenty of coaches in jobs now who must look in the mirror in the morning and wonder about their long-term job security. I want to think here about those whose job-security might be in the very short term and not in the long term. To avoid any idea that I am prioritizing here, let me put the coaches in alphabetical order:
- Dennis Allen: His teams over the last two seasons have underachieved but they have the same record as their division leader this morning – – so he will not be fired before the end of the season.
- Bill Belichick: There are lots of stories about how he might be moving on from the Pats, but I cannot see Robert Kraft firing him before the end of the season.
- Matt Eberflus: There are bigger questions related to the Bears than whether Eberflus should be fired prior to the first week in January. Presumably the Bears’ braintrust is occupied with other issues.
- Ron Rivera: He is not likely to be fired in-season; he certainly ought to be relieved of his GM duties about 30 minutes after the end of the regular season; and by then, the new owners of the Commanders should have decided on whether to keep him as the head-coach,
- Robert Saleh: He should not be fired at all; the Jets’ problems are roster construction and not coaching. But Woody Johnson has been known to make snap decisions so you cannot rule this one out.
- Arthur Smith: His team is an uninteresting 5-6 so far in 2023 – – but it is in first place in the NFC South. He will not be an in-season firing.
- Brandon Staley: I said in early September he was a coach on a hot seat; he has a decent roster, and the team has underachieved. If any owner decides to go “copycat”, I think Staley is vulnerable.
I do not think any of the coaches above need to be replaced before the end of this season even though I do believe some of them will be out of work come the off-season. But to lay all my cards on the table, I never saw the firing of Frank Reich after only 11 games in Carolina as even a remote possibility. So, there …
Finally, some words about coaching and coaching contracts from former Clemson head football coach, Frank Howard:
“I had a lifetime contract, but the administration declared me dead.”
But don’t get me wrong, I love sports………