Rick Reilly is not my favorite writer – but he is a great writer. For years I subscribed to Sports Illustrated and, whether I liked the subject matter or not, I always read Reilly’s column which was always found on the inside back cover of the magazine. During his 23-year stint at Sports Illustrated Reilly was like Britney Spears in the early to mid 2000s – even if you weren’t a fan you always wanted to know what he was doing or talking about.
Maybe I’ve always followed his career because he’s a former Boulder kid like me. Reilly started his career in 1979 as an undergraduate assistant with the Daily Camera in Boulder, Colorado. (When I was a CU undergrad I wrote for the Colorado Daily and Campus Press). Next, in 1981, he moved on to be a football writer for The Denver Post (I moved to Denver and wrote for the Glendale Cherry Creek Chronicle).
In 1983 he left Colorado to write for the Los Angeles Times before joining Sports Illustrated in 1985 where he stayed until 2007. In 2008, he became a columnist for ESPN.com and wrote the back page column for ESPN the Magazine. Reilly also hosted ESPN’s interview show, Homecoming with Rick Reilly, and is a contributing essayist for ESPN SportsCenter and ABC Sports.
Over the years, Reilly has earned many awards. He is an eleven-time winner of the National Sportscasters and Sportswriters Association (now the National Sports Media Association) National Sportswriter of the Year award, making him the second most winningest recepient. In 2009, he won the Damon Runyon Award for Outstanding Contributions to Journalism and his work has been recognized by the New York Newspaper Guild’s Page One Award for Best Magazine Story.
Reilly has also written over a dozen books but I’ve never been inclined to pick one up until I saw Tiger, meet my sister…and other things I probably shouldn’t have said (yes, that’s the actual title) in my local bookstore. I’m not a golf fan and don’t have much to say about Tiger Woods but, the fact that Rick Reilly, one of the most opinionated sportswriter ever, was actually admitting fault in the title of his book, definitely got my attention.
Anyway, the book is a collection of essays he wrote between 2008 and 2013 about a variety of people including famous athletes, infamous athletes, coaches, people who like sports, and people who overcame a lot to have something to do with sports.
A few memorable words from Reilly:
- If you’re not adding some tiny good to the world, then you’re wasting everybody’s time.
- Be warned: Rip me, roast me, rave about me, but don’t be boring.
- What good is victory if you never realize the battle is over?
- Every tattoo parlor should come with a proofreader. (Amen)!
- Sometimes rebellion isn’t just a good thing. It’s the only thing.
- If there’s one thing I’ve learned about parenting, it’s that the best gift you can give your kid is someone they’d hate to disappoint.
- You never know when you might just lead a kid out to where the light is better.
- On golfer Seve Ballesteros: The man was 80 proof…He could make par from places where a lot of guys would require a chainsaw.
- On Denver Nuggets coach George Karl who was bravely going through chemotherapy while coaching: You fight the dragon any way they tell you.
- When the biggest and fiercest and most famous of us takes time to stand up for the smallest of us, it makes me proud to be a sportswriter, proud to cover these athletes, these men.
A few sentences from his self-written faux obit:
- Reilly was a very odd sportswriter in that he didn’t really write about sports. He wrote more about people who played sports than sports themselves. (Very accurate – and I think that’s what I like about his writing. He tells stories about all kinds of people).
- He loved writing about big people acting small and small people acting big.
- His main deal was trying to write sentences nobody had ever read before, entertain people, and not have to get a real job.
Reilly can be an arrogant son of a bitch but he does admit when he’s wrong:
- On Lance Armstrong: I’d go out there and continue polishing a legend that turned out to be plated in fool’s gold.
- On BYU basketball star Jimmer Fredette: I was wrong as poodle sweaters.
- In November 2012 he tweeted that Notre Dame would definitely lose to USC and, if he was wrong, he would polish every helmet in South Bend. Notre Dame won 22-13 and, after getting called out by the co-captain of the team via Twitter, Reilly made good on his promise: Every player I met was not only cool about what an idiot I’d been, they all seemed to have stories.
He’s probably the most poignant when writing about his family, particularly his father:
- Golf taught me the lessons my dad never did, including the best one: You play life where it lies. You hit it there. You play it from there. Nobody threw you a nasty curveball or forgot to block the defensive end.
- I learned that my mistakes were mine alone, not my boss’s, not the cops’, and as much as I hated to admit it, not my dad’s.
- I’m a storyteller out of surviving him.
On NFL player Ray Lewis/Quoting Ray Lewis:
- He wants to laugh –at himself first and second, and maybe you third.
- “You can be bitter and pissed off all want, but time don’t stop for nobody.”
- He’s a player at heart and I’m a writer at heart, and almost never do the twain mix.
- “I always thought writers were nothin’ but dangerous.” (Smile).
One of the funniest sections was definitely when he breaks down the different types of people who work out at a gym. My favorites:
- Grunting Too Much Weight Dropper Dude – He’s rocking the Zubaz, Guns N’ Roses t-shirt, Harley do-rage, weight belt and grip gloves.
- 1986 Man – He’s the one with the Walkman, headphones the size of twenty-five-pound plates, Richard Simmons shorts and the Tom Selleck ’stache.
- Unlimited Minutes Gal – She’s the one on the treadmill walking 1.3 miles per hour while watching Judge Judy.
- Barbie Ball Babe – She’s the one with the teased ponytail, bedazzled headband and enough makeup to stump an archaeologist.
While Reilly can definitely be over-the-top, he can also be hilarious. Some of his comments and descriptions had me laughing out loud. He is also sappier than I remembered – he clearly likes the underdog – but knows when being harsh is necessary. Don’t get him started on the deception of Lance Armstrong or the disgusting acts committed by Jerry Sandusky and the fact that Joe Paterno let it happen. He lights them up and they deserve it. On a lighter note, his description of spending the day with Kobe Bryant was excellent and reading the section about Steph Curry when he was having his “breakout year” was fascinating.
The USA Today quote on the cover above the title of the book describes Reilly as: “The closest thing sportswriting ever had to a rock star.” I don’t know if I’d go that far – especially since Reilly is wearing a sweater vest, khakis, and loafers on both the front and back covers – but he’s definitely a ballsy writer who is equally skilled at using eloquence and sarcasm. Thanks Mr. Reilly, from one Boulder kid to another, for being fearless while writing with finesse.