images.jpgLast week COSELLOUT responded to Rick Reilly’s recent not-so-funny beat-down of Barry Bonds. This week we play Dr. Phil! Reilly writes for our country’s most celebrated and circulated sports magazine in Sport’s Illustrated and likes to double up as a creative, witty, stand-up comic. Not only is he most likely SI’s most famous writer (although BEST goes to Gary Smith), but he has won the national sportswriter of the year award an astonishing TEN times.  There is no denying that he is extremely talented… and conflicted.  Here is most likely why:  

Rick Reilly is a dork.
No, no, no. I have no actual proof that Reilly, while in high school, got his lunch tray repeatedly flipped over; was picked last for every team in gym class, or received all-star wedgies from the jocks. But since the dork claim has never been refuted, even by Reilly himself, why get hung up on details!  Now you might think that calling a sportswriter a “dork” amounts to petty name-calling. Well, it might be petty, and might also qualify as name-calling, but the statement has a far greater purpose. Reilly’s career is a study of combining great writing talent with great dorkiness. There have been countless psychological profiles by writers on athletes. But what about writers? Let’s give it a try!   

Champion of the Underdog:
When properly channeling his outer dork, Reilly shines as he scours the high schools for inspirational stories. His articles on disabled-heroes like Sean Cronk and Bobby Martin capture the essence of the human spirit.  Reilly’s writing contains a social conscioiusness  that addresses sports-as-life-and-death pieces that extend far beyond sports and  America’s borders. His articles on athletes lost to war or mosquito nets are sports-writing and sports-relevance at its very best.    

Revenge of the Nerd:
As Reilly shifts from raising spirits and awareness of little-known stories to lowering the boom on big-name athletes, he quickly loses his luster. Just like a brilliant comedian who might waste half of his act on “waaaaaay-too-easy” Michael Jackson jokes, too many of his “lets all pile on” columns are simply far beneath his talent. He will not hesitate to write his mandatory monthly mock-job on a Bonds, a Ron Artest, or a Latrell Sprewell post- “feed his family” comments knowing full well that there will be an abundance of built-in applause no matter what the column’s contents. In any given week, Reilly will switch from schooling readers to school-yard bully.  

Big Mac – A Case Study:
Perhaps Reilly could be best summed up by his coverage AFTER Mark McGwire found himself sniffling in front of Congress. Reilly’s next column immediately jumped on the hypocritically-righteous steroids bandwagon. Once Big Mac became easy prey, Reilly mocked away along with the rest of our moral indig-NATION.  While Reilly had a literary field day with McGwire’s statement that he was not in court “to talk about the past”, I agree with Reilly that we SHOULD talk about his past. Where was Reilly’s courage the previous 10 years when every sign in the world to even the dullest of sportswriters was right there to draw a reasonable conclusion on McGwire? Where was the admonishing column of Big Mac (at maximum), or  refusal to take a celebratory stance with McGwire (at minimum) before that day in congress when public opinion turned? Could Reilly, who did this previous cover story on McGwire in 1998, HONESTLY say that he was unaware of the prospect of McGwire and performance enhancing drugs?  

Tragic Flaw:
“Reilly’s revenge” has been his main obstacle in achieving true journalistic greatness. Contrary to the supposed flaw of Barry Bonds, Rick Reilly likes to be liked. Lack of writing skills is not his problem, lack of guts is. He simply is not  that guy who could have taken the heat for standing up for the constitutional rights of the unpopular Ali in the 1960’s. No, we would have gotten some smart-alecky column on the Army test that Ali initially failed. Reilly’s social conscience has personal limits. With few exceptions, even his greatest stances and inspirational stories are grounded in a common thread: the protection of popularity. He simply lacks the courage of say, a Dan Le Batard (columnist for ESPN magazine) who routinely uses his talent to take more subtle, more complex, and more nuanced stances that challenge the status quo.   While even Freud could never know for sure if the “revenge of the nerd” explanation is what ails Reilly , that point is ultimately irrelevant. What is relevant is that Reilly carries one of the mightiest pens in sports, but only wields its positive power on a part-time basis. Given his body of work, it would be quite unfair and inaccurate to label Reilly a “Cosellout”, however, he is still miles away from becoming a Cosell. 

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Giving Sports Illustrated* and Rick Reilly Their Due – Part 1A