Research & Insights

By Brendan O'Connor, March 13, 2008

Less white people, more football: Sports Illustrated covers since 1954

Human annotators are great at providing basic information about images. We were wondering if we could find something interesting about magazine covers. Stumbling upon 2800 Sports Illustrated cover images going back to 1954, we sent them to Mechanical Turk, asking people to identify the race and gender of the person featured (if any), and what sport was depicted. There are lots of interesting things in this data; this post will touch on just a few we’ve had time to whip together some graphs for.

Here is a historical graph of the frequency of how often people of different races appear on the cover of Sports Illustrated. The story is simple and striking:

Next: which sports get featured on the cover? Here’s a chart for several sports over that same time.

It might be possible to find links between the careers of famous athletes and rises and falls their sports’ popularity; for example, boxing peaks in the 70’s (Muhammad Ali?), basketball peaks in the 90’s (Michael Jordan?) and golf bounces back in the 90’s after a long decline (Tiger Woods?).

Many other sports appear in the data, too; for this chart, we made sure to pick the three most common, and a few other particularly interesting ones. Percentages don’t add up to 100% because we didn’t plot all the other sports, including things like horse racing which used to be much more popular. If you’re really curious, here’s the full chart of all sports we asked about, including many of the smaller ones.