ESPN is turning on Rick Reilly

11 Dec
December 11, 2012

For decades now we’ve all sort of had a sneaking suspicion that former Sports Illustrated and current ESPN scribe/personality/wild card Rick Reilly is equal parts egomaniac and asshole (believe it or not those two traits don’t necessarily go hand in hand). But then he went and confirmed it for us in this glorious clip:

Let me qualify everything I’m about to write with this: Reilly is pretty damn talented. If you try to debate me on that point I’ll just point you to the SI piece he wrote in 1994 on high school referee Kenny Wilcoxen and I’ll win the argument. The dude has always known his way around a keyboard.

Reilly’s print work for Sports Illustrated was held in reverence by sports nuts back in the days when (A) SI mattered much more than it does now, (B) ESPN hadn’t yet implemented its plan for world dominance and (C) Al Gore hadn’t gotten around to inventing the Internet. Granted, his frequent printed snarkiness gave hints at the underlying assholishness that we now realize permeates Reilly’s entire being. But without the combined glare of ESPN’s cameras and social media, that assholishness wasn’t yet on full display. It was still a myth, like the Yeti or his North American cousin the Sasquatch ($1 to Rabbi Glickman).

Then in 2007, Reilly was tractor beamed into the Mothership and his visibility grew exponentially. As a result we’ve seen what happens to a massive egomaniac when you give him an even bigger stage: his ability to annoy us goes off the charts. But while he’s been busy chasing camera time, ESPN’s been equally busy not knowing what the hell to do with him.

He’s no longer prominently featured in the network’s magazine, thus taking him away from the long form print medium where the guy basically buttered his bread. As a scribe turned TV analyst he’s flat out awkward on camera (but in Reilly’s defense he’s no more creepy through the lens than serial plagiarist Woody Paige). And the work Reilly does for ESPN’s web site? It’s no longer must read material the way his back page stuff for SI once was.

The longer the awkward marriage between Reilly and ESPN goes, the more it seems like ESPN isn’t that enamored with the guy. Because these days, it’s not just Deadspin that takes Reilly to task on a regular basis, his own ESPN colleagues are jumping into the mix. Here’s Mothership blowhard Mike Golic getting all asshurt because Reilly had the nerve to say something negative about his beloved Notre Dame back in September:

Let that clip sink in for a second. Wait, let me rephrase that, if you were able to stomach Golic and Greeny for the duration of that clip, let it sink in. These guys have analysts on their show all the time who say ridiculous shit about sports. Seriously, there appears to be no limit to the amount of times Cris Carter can say something about the NFL that is proven wrong no sooner than the following Sunday.

But Golic and Greeny won’t go to the lengths of trying to publicly discount Carter’s viewpoint during a telecast the way Golic is doing to Reilly in the clip above. On the contrary, Greeny is much too busy washing Carter’s balls during each of his appearances to possibly take the time to put Carter in any kind of a bad light.

A more recent instance of Reilly being taken to task by a fellow ESPN employee came last week, this time courtesy of Grantland columnist Michael Weinreb. The piece in question was a look back at Joe Dudek, a guy that Rick Reilly personally thrust into the spotlight way back in 1985 as the thinking man’s choice for the Heisman Trophy:


In that Sports Illustrated piece, written in his first year on the job, Reilly was thoroughly unimpressed with Auburn’s Bo Jackson as a Heisman candidate:

Bo Jackson? Puh-leeez. In the two games of mortal consequence to Auburn fans this season, Tennessee and Florida, Bo yanked himself out. At Tennessee, he had a knee bruise. Auburn lost. Against Florida, Bo had a thigh bruise. Auburn lost. Whatever happened to being carried off the field, you say? In big games, Bo grabs more bench time than Sandra Day O’Connor. (Sports Illustrated -December 2, 1985)

In his recap of the Dudek phenomenon for Grantland, here’s Weinreb referencing Reilly’s assessment:

College football was seething with blatant and in-your-face corruption, punctuated by the sordid happenings at Southern Methodist University. And even though Bo’s career at Auburn had nothing to do with this — even though the supposedly inconsequential injuries, like a thigh bruise that kept Jackson out of certain games and that Reilly cited as the primary reason for Bo’s lack of qualifications, were, in fact, very real — he and Iowa quarterback Chuck Long became symbols of the Heisman’s insistent celebration of mediocrity. By extension, they became symbols of college football’s inevitable degeneration into a semiprofessional avocation. In search of an anti-antihero, Reilly happened upon Joe Dudek, who had the name, and the car, and the lack of scholarship money — one of the myths that made the rounds was that Dudek actually worked cleaning up the stadium after the games (he’s still not sure where that came from) — and who had run for 265 yards in his final game at Plymouth. Then, suffering from injuries and exhaustion, he had to be carted from the field by ambulance.2 Thigh bruise, indeed, Reilly sneered at Bo. (Grantland)

Keep in mind that the driving force behind Weinreb’s piece is not a remembrance of Dudek. No, it made its debut the same day that ESPN aired the 30 for 30 documentary on Bo, which was produced by Weinreb’s boss and Grantland overlord Bill Simmons. I guess that’s what the Mothership calls synergy.

The column’s motivation notwithstanding, I just find it flat out fascinating that Rick Reilly is being taken to task by an ESPN employee for something that was written 27 years ago. This is something you’d expect to read on Deadspin, not Grantland.

To sum it up, a guy can be a complete egomaniac, but if he refrains from being an asshole, we can give him a pass. Call this the Dan Patrick Effect. But Reilly has melded the two traits into a perfect storm of insufferability. It’s gotten so bad that it’s not just the sporting public who’s gotten tired of it, it appears his colleagues are just as irritated.

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