Sports Illustrated Changes Color Of Baylor Football Jerseys

Original photograph and Sports Illustrated published page
Original photograph and Sports Illustrated published page

By Donald R. Winslow

Well, there's a lot of second guessing going on in cyberspace about whether or not Sports Illustrated intentionally or unintentionally digitally altered the color of Baylor football players' jerseys in a photograph used in the magazine's "Leading Off" feature. 

The subject surfaced today when Dallas Morning News staff photojournalist Louis DeLuca posted this blog ("When is black not black? When you'd rather it be green?"). US Presswire photographer Matthew Emmons confirmed to DeLuca tonight that he had "no role" in the manipulation. He shot the game and transmitted.

When asked about it, Sport Illustrated's director of photography Steve Fine provided an answer that came back to us from a Time Inc. senior public relations flack, one Scott Novak, who said, "We’ve looked into this and due to a production error the uniform colors are misleading. We should have caught it and will run a correction next week."

Of course a lot of people aren't buying that. Those who were at the game or watched it on television know the jerseys in that game were either a very, very, very dark green or black. When columnist Jim Romenesko told the Time Inc. representative that most people would call tonight's Time Inc. response "bullshit," Novak said, "We've investigated the issue and consider the matter closed." 

Oh, okay. Right. That should satisfy everyone. (Not). 

Jim Colton, who has my deepest respect and admiration as both a photography editor and a credible person, posted a response on the Romenesko blog that explains why he believes it really could be a production error. And he told me on the phone tonight how he was able to nearly replicate the change by setting a "white point" in just a certain way. If I'm going to believe anyone it's going to be Colton, not a Time Inc. flack.

However, while it might be true, it's still not a full and transparent explanation from Sports Illustrated. When I look at the photograph and think about what Colton said, I wonder why the referee's uniform is still black and not shifted to green. I wonder why the TV camera in the top center is still black and not shifted to green. I wonder why the black elements on the other team's uniforms are black and not shifted to green. I wonder why ONLY the Baylor jerseys are shifted to a green as green as any grass growing in a misty Irish bog. So were the jerseys isolated, or was that center part brought up into a layer that was altered and then flattened? Was there a Magic Wand involved? Or was Content Aware involved? Let me tell you, everyone who sees this picture is now "aware" of the content. The altered content.

Here's a Tim Heitman photograph for US Presswire of what that Baylor game jersey really looks like.

I wasn't going to bring it up, but one of the people posting comments on Romenesko's blog brought it up - so it's out there. Several years ago The Charlotte Observer fired a talented and promising young staff photographer for shifting the color balance by using too much filter in a fire news picture. Time Inc. refused to say who manipulated this Baylor photograph or whether they would be disciplined.

It bothers me when a magazine whose history is built on the credibility of sports photography just kisses off the photojournalism world when the profession dares to question an image that's been as clearly messed with as this picture has been. It bothers me when a public relations flack says "We consider the matter closed." That's corporate speak for "Shut up, we're not telling you anything else, and we don't have to explain anything."

If this was the first offense for Sports Illustrated, I don't think people would be reacting as much. But the magazine's track record for messing with pictures speaks for itself. 

That's my opinion, anyway.