Sports Illustrated Magazine Accused of Manipulating College Football Photo

Last week, Sports Illustrated magazine published the above photograph by US Presswire photographer Matthew Emmons. Found in the “Leading Off” section, the photo shows the Baylor Bears football team celebrating after their upset victory over the #2 ranked Kansas State Wildcats.

The image has many people talking, not because of the unlikely event that it captures, but because it appears to be heavily manipulated. And it’s not just the fact that the picture looks like it passed through an HDR program, but that the Baylor football players didn’t wear green jerseys during that game. They wore black.

Here’s the photograph as it originally looked before Sports Illustrated photo editors got their hands on it:

Big difference, huh?

Louis DeLuca of The Dallas Morning News first spotted the discrepancy, and writes,

Yes, those are black jerseys. I also watched part of the game on TV and was sure I had seen black jerseys, only to pick up the copy of America’s most-venerated sports publication to see that a double-truck photo misrepresents the reality of what happened that Saturday night in Waco.

This may not seem like a big deal to some, but in an age where digital manipulation can, and is, eroding the public’s confidence in what they see produced by professional photojournalists as visual truth, do we really want to do this? I sure hope the answer is no.

DeLuca got in touch with Emmons, who stated that he had no role in the editing process:

I don’t know what S.I. did. As a photographer I have no contact with them. I transmit the photos to the wire and what publications do with the images after they receive them is on their shoulders. I can’t speculate about it. We capture the game as photographers, and transmit the scene as it was captured. Like your photographers on staff we transmit what we find, what we shoot. We’re a wire service that doesn’t manipulate the pictures. We’re about journalism integrity. We don’t change anything.

The folks over at sports blog Deadspin contacted Sports Illustrated, and received a response from spokesman Scott Novak:

[SI said that] the colorization was an “error” that led to the colors being “misleading.” He pledged the magazine would run a correction next week, but refused to answer when asked exactly what error would lead to this kind of extreme photo manipulation. This isn’t just an artifact of Adobe Photoshop’s “Shadows/Highlights” function, used often to brighten too-dark images. The image is heavily manipulated, from various players’ skin tones to the addition of an extra layer of grass at the bottom

You can find a higher-resolution version of the Sports Illustrated image here.

Just to see if Emmons’ original image would turn green with standard post-processing edits (e.g. fill light, recovery, etc.), we threw it into Adobe Camera Raw and boosted Fill Light all the way to 100% (and Recovery up as well). Here’s what we got:

It looks much more like an HDR photo, but nothing like the SI image. The uniforms are still black.

DeLuca says that he refuses to buy any more issues of Sports Illustrated unless the magazine gives him an explanation he buys.

(via The Click)

Image credit: Photograph by Matthew Emmons/US Presswire

  • Norm Cooper

    and just wait till the Swimsuit edition comes out, I’m suing if there is ANY digital manipulation there!

  • Matthew Guss

    heavily manipulated??? Lol, more like a two second adjustment in photoshop (i.e. shadow/highlights) + slight boost in saturation, & new crop to fill page w/ content aware on grass. . . frankly, looks like a crappy underexposed image that would’ve gone in the garbage had it not been for the images content. Thus, some Photoshop nerd (who dose not know football) likely misinterpreted the jerseys as being dark green & quickly painted them back (I took the original low-res image & adjusted it using said technique, & it’s very difficult to tell if their underexposed green jerseys or black with hints of green). Either way, I’m surprised this error went to print.

  • Vladimir Byazrov Photographer

    They should wear green jerseys. Black is not a good team uniform colour.

  • lidocaineus

    HDR? Hardly. Someone changed the colors and adjusted exposure and curved it a bit for contrast.

  • Choen Lee

    sports illustrated’s version has extra content on the top edge of the photograph. check out the crowd, and the cameraman’s face and compare it with the emmons’ original ‘crop’. I don’t think the photographer is telling the full story.

  • David Grimshaw

    Because what really matters is the saturation of the uniforms in this story…

  • Ty

    Ummm . . . I’m pretty sure that Kstate was ranked #1 in that game, not #2.

  • MMielech

    Exactly. Somebody is going a bit over the top if they think that is “heavily manipulated”. Hell, it’s a crummy underexposed wire transfer that, as you say, was rushed out before someone checked the color. If you want to see heavy manipulation, pick up any other non hard news magazine. the ads, of course, are almost synthetic, but, most edit has been heavily worked on.

  • Erick Flores

    what about “Mean Machine”? they used black jerseys

  • Rip

    News flash. Pictures get manipulated! Welcome to 1930s

  • Simeon May

    As a Baylor grad I want to express my deep appreciation to SI for making this change. I hate it when our sports teams wear black. Our colors are green and gold, not black. We sing about flinging our green and gold afar. Nice job, SI! Of course, when you beat the #1 team in the nation, who really cares what you’re wearing. HaHaHa!


    After watching the video, I agree that the uniforms are more of a dark green.

  • Michael Zhang

    Hmmm. I think most news outlets were reporting the rankings based on AP rank, while you’re referring to BCS rank. Oregon was actually #1 that week according to newspapers. Good catch, though.

  • Rob S

    Baylor’s colors are green and gold but they have a number of different uniform combinations including a very very very dark green/black and green home jersey. Baylor is a “Nike School” and is part of the “different uniform every week” plan. K-State is also a Nike school but Coach Snyder changes uniforms once every 20-30 years.

    Im a K-State grad and this game is etched into a very dark place and I assure you, Baylor was NOT wearing light green that night.

  • Rob S

    Great game. Just wish Phil Bennett had waited another week to unleash the defense. Cant wait for you guys to come back to Manhattan next year.

    Go Big 12

  • Rob S

    Cinci Bearcats wear black almost exclusively. Oklahoma State has a great black and orange uniform. Oregon has a GREAT black and green uniform – one of their better ones compared to some of the disasters they wear. TCU does a nice black and purple. Most college basketball teams have some variation on an all black and host “balck out” games where fans are encourage to do the same. I would not recommend black for a day game in the summer heat but night/indoors its a good look.

  • J. F.

    The Baylor jerseys for the K-State game were black with green letters, numbers, and stitching on the shoulders (nike flywire).

  • MMielech

    As someone who was on the inside, I have to tell you, those girls are pretty much what you see in the magazine. They’re almost perfect. The only “manipulation” is the removal of tatoos and very very few skin blemishes.

  • Mansgame

    he speaks the truth.

  • Rob S

    Note that in the unaltered version the jersey and socks are the same color. IN the “enhanced” one the jersey turns green but the socks stay black. Someone put effort into making those jerseys green while leaving everything else the same.

  • Mike Philippens™

    Storm…glass of water

  • lidocaineus

    That adds about 10 more seconds in adding an additional layer that only covers the color change for the jerseys – you don’t even have to do a selection..

  • Jacob Dole

    Was I… I just thought they’d look better in green. Heal the world, make it a better place, for you and for me and the entire human race.

  • John Kantor

    Only an idiot believes in “visual truth.”

  • bob cooley

    I know this was intended to be /sarcasm/ and assuming MMlielech is correct (or at least on the closer side to correct) – its a completely different issue. I would expect some post-work done in the swimsuit issue.

    The Swimsuit issue is not journalism, its glamour, where we are accustomed to seeing altered reality, and no one has an expectation of the truth. In journalistic images published by the top print magazine in sports coverage, we should expect to see reality. Some toning, dodging/burning (as would be done in the darkroom) would be perfectly acceptable, but complete color alteration and addition/subtraction of elements in the image beyond a crop is a betrayal to the journalistic ethic.

  • Ripley

    Sometimes sports teams have to wear different colour jerseys. Usually though, it is to prevent confusion when the two teams playing each other both have similar colour jerseys.

  • David Rychart

    I’m sure the photog is telling the whole story. They could have gotten the extra content from any number of his shots. This lies completely on the shoulder of the editors.

  • Haity pickle

    In an editors mind the black jerseys are to dull and non appealing the green colors are very vibrant and make the players stand out more and look more important