Jamie Hale

Jamie Hale

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Sports Illustrated Jinx: Is it really a jinx?

By Jamie Hale

There are many coaches, athletes, sports commentators and sports fans that believe being featured on the cover of Sports Illustrated is not a good thing for an athlete. Supporters of the Sports Illustrated Jinx claim being featured on the cover leads to bad luck. SIJ proponents can cite numerous cases to support their belief.

Victims of the Sports Illustrated Cover Jinx (Wikipedia excerpts):

“May 26, 1958: Race car driver Pat O’Connor appears on the cover. He dies four days later on the first lap of the Indianapolis 500.

August 7, 1978: Pete Rose appears on the cover the same week that his 44-game hitting streak ended.

May 8, 1989: Jon Peters, of Brenham High School in Texas, sets the national high school record for games won by a pitcher, with a 51-0 record. The next game after the cover, he loses for the first (and only) time of his high school career.

In November 2007, Kerry Meier of the Kansas Jayhawks appeared on the cover, which stated "Dream Season (So Far)" after the Jayhawks were 11-0. In their next game they lost to their archrivals, the Missouri Tigers, 36-28, ending the Jayhawks perfect season.

November 9, 2009: Iowa's Derell Johnson Koulianos appears on the front cover with the words "Still Perfect." The Hawkeyes lost to Northwestern two days before the issue date, ending the longest winning streak in school history.”

Maybe the SIJ is a real phenomenon, or maybe, or almost certainly, it is an erroneous belief produced by the regression fallacy. Gilovich explains (1991) how the regression fallacy applies to the SIJ Myth:

It does not take much statistical sophistication to see how regression effects may be responsible for the belief in the Sports Illustrated jinx. Athletes performance at different times are imperfectly correlated. Thus, due to regression alone, we can expect an extraordinary good performance to be followed, on the the average, by a somewhat less extraordinary performance. Athletes appear on the cover of Sports Illustrated when they are newsworthy- i.e., when their performance is extraordinary. Thus, an athlete’s superior performance in the weeks preceding a cover story is very likely to be followed by somewhat poorer performance in the weeks after. Those who believe in the jinx, like those who believe in the hot hand, are mistaken, not in what they observe, but in how they interpret what they see. Many atheltes do suffer a deterioation in their performance after being pictured on the cover of Sports Illustrated, and the mistake lies in citing a jinx, rather than citing regression as the proper interpretation of this phenomenon.

I wonder what SJM supporters think of Michael Jordan's 57 appearances on the cover (Greenfield, 2010), or Vince Young who appeared on the cover of Sports Illustrated twice during Texas's National Championship season (Zahn, 2002)?


Gilovich, T. How. (1991). How We Know What Isn’t So: The Fallibility of Human Reason In Everyday Life. New York: Free Press.

Greenfield, J. (2010). Michael Jordan: The Sports Illustrated Covers. http://www.chicagonow.com/blogs/sports/2010/01/michael-jordan-the-sports-illustrated-covers-1.html (accessed August 23, 2010)

Wikipeida. Sports Illustrated Cover Jinx. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sports_Illustrated_Cover_Jinx (accessed August 23, 2010)

Zahn, P. (2002). Is Their (sic) a “Sports Illustrated Cover Jinx. CNN. http://transcripts.cnn.com/TRANSCRIPTS/0201/25/ltm.01.html. (accessed August 23, 2010).

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