Is there really a “Sports Illustrated” jinx, dogging athletes or teams pictured on the cover?
A. A season or so ago, football coach Bill Parcells reportedly balked at cooperating with the magazine on a story, citing the well-publicized “jinx.” There is indeed a sort of worse luck outcome that often follows media attention, says Thomas Gilovich in “How We Know What Isn’t So,” but it has to do with statistics. To make the cover of a major magazine, a sports figure must have a super year. This means peak performance PLUS the breaks. But after this sort of exceptional year, a not- so-exceptional year will almost certainly follow (“regression toward the average”), just as very good days in life are usually followed by more ordinary ones. Regression also helps explain many disappointing book or movie sequels, failed albums after a gold record, and baseball’s “sophomore jinx.” It won’t explain basketball great Michael Jordan though, on the “Sports Illustrated” cover 46 times, but too good to succumb to anybody’s math or magical hex.