Outliers, Regression and the Sports Illustrated Myth

By appearing on the cover of Sports Illustrated, sportsmen and women become jinxed and shortly thereafter experience bouts of bad luck, goes the Sports Illustrated Cover Jinx myth.

‘Evidence’ of the myth comes in the form of many individuals and teams who have died or, more commonly, simply experienced bad luck in their chosen vocation shortly after appearing on the cover of the magazine.

The Wikipedia entry for the Sports Illustrated Cover Jinx has a thorough list of some “notable incidences” and also provides a concise, scientific explanation of the phenomenon:

The most common explanation for the perceived effect is that athletes are generally featured on the cover after an outlier performance; their future performance is likely to display regression toward the mean and be less impressive by comparison. This decline in performance would then be misperceived as being related to, or even possibly caused by, the appearance on the magazine cover.

Related: The Madden NFL Curse.

via Ben Goldacre’s Bad Science



One response to “Outliers, Regression and the Sports Illustrated Myth”

  1. flaubert

    This is pretty much the same reason why the Manager of the Month award in the Premiership often gets tagged as a ‘curse’.

    Can’t imagine Alan Shearer using ‘regression towards the mean’ any time soon though.