Lame of Thrones

By Ramzy Nasrallah on May 14, 2013 at 11:30a
The role of a writer is not to say what we can all say, but what we are unable to say. - Anais Nïn

An update for those of you who stopped paying attention years ago: Rick Reilly is still stealing. He’s doing it proudly, in plain sight and on the largest platform in sports media.

It’s never been the same brand of thievery routinely practiced by a career crook like Jim Bollman, who has maddeningly collected generous paychecks while growing thick roots at the statistical bottom of his craft. There also isn’t any crony behind the wheel of a getaway car assisting him in his heist.

No, hard as it is to accept in his current iteration, Reilly legitimately earned the keys to the vault that he’s been looting for all those years.

He is sportswriting’s Bernie Madoff, but with victims numbering in the millions, fewer dollars melted away, no outright corruption and actually he’s nothing at all like Bernie Madoff though it’s conceivable Reilly would playfully use such hyperbole in a cheeky and inaccurate categorization of the literary work he has produced at ESPN for a mere $17MM over five years.

Remember, this is a man who regularly stages photographs of celebrities choking him. It's the signature move of his contrived adversaries.

ESPN has been a slow burn for Reilly, whose audience is increasingly difficult to categorize: Equal parts addicted consumers, rubbernecking fetishists, innocent bystanders and historical admirers. I have been unwillingly carved and portioned into each of those buckets.

Count me among the legion of former Sports Illustrated subscribers who used to start each issue with Reilly's allocutions on the back page. I’m also not the only sports enthusiast who grew fatigued by ESPN's programming direction at large and reduced my consumption, which included his regular contributions to a genre his work used to define.

Dropouts like me are now infrequently reminded that Reilly is still in the business whenever he offers up an especially cringe-worthy contribution to the space, like being first on Twitter or delving into an insipid NY Jets-inspired poetry slam:

          Rex Ryan's seat is hot
 | Mark's been killin' him
 | What hurts worse is 
| He makes 8 million

        They picked brash Geno
 | Who's a bit of a diva
 | He says he'll behave
 | But who's a believa?

This is not a Long Island seventh-grader's Facebook status. It was published yesterday by the 11-time recipient of the National Sportscasters and Sportswriters Association’s Sportswriter of the Year. And it was delivered on an elevated content perch by the largest media conglomerate in the world.

It's yet another suicide note scribbled by a writer who would love nothing more but to end it all, if not for the salaried commitments.

That poem has been shared on Facebook and Twitter several hundred times, and while not all of those shares come from the rubbernecking fetishists, a lot of them do.

Tressel knows both the Youngstown Death Grip and restraint.

When we last checked in with Reilly here at Eleven Warriors, he was conspicuously preparing to take the second-dumbest angle ever conceived for an article about Aaron Craft. The resulting groans that went viral upon learning of his designs for unmasking Craft as "annoying" may have dissuaded him from following through on his grand plan: The column can't be found.

Reilly is abundantly capable of producing quality content. As his compensation increased to unthinkable levels, he reached satiety with his career and stopped trying. Overcompensation coupled with a comfortable hammock hanging from the spires atop your industry far above the fray can do that.

His decline parallels Jay Leno's, a former standup comedian who used to be very funny. Similar to Reilly's professional peak which is now barely a speck in the rearview mirror, that revelation may be a shock to anyone born too late to know otherwise.

Both men cashed in on reaching the top of their professions by bathing in the sweet, bankable comfort of milquetoast. It's more of a deliberate and unfortunate change in course than an outright decline, like the final decade of Joe Paterno's career when he couldn't be bothered to leave his living room to recruit the future stewards of the Penn State empire he built.

Paterno spent decades becoming a legend, until his job became playing the part of that edifice. Leno has an armada of writers; JoePa had a legion of assistants. Reilly has neither; just a large base of readers who continue to fracture into different categories. He now writes poems about Tim Tebow for ESPN, for a fee.

He is by far the highest-paid scribe at ESPN, which employs an enormous number of talented, hungrier writers whose names combined hold a fraction of the equity that Rick Reilly has. The line of comedians funnier than Leno could circle the globe. When Paterno's career ended, he was near the bottom of his craft. It wasn't always that way.

Regardless, it's difficult to cram all of the hideous bits Reilly has produced just during his ESPN tenure into one piece, so in the spirit of knowing my audience - consider his description of "The Michigan Man" for Nebraska upon its entry into the Big Ten:

The Michigan Man is full of pride in himself and his Michigan degree -- so much so that you're going to want to bring a throw-up bowl along with you. Sadly, the Michigan Man has had to reduce the volume a little lately, having not beaten The Ohio State Man since the debut of the Edsel.

"The Michigan Man" had only beaten "The Ohio State Man" a mere two dozen times since the Edsel's debut when Reilly wrote this in 2011, but failing at hyperbole isn't really the point. It also isn't that he doesn't seem to realize that abundant, effervescent pride toward a Michigan education is the battle cry of Michigan's non-degreed stakeholders, i.e. the essence of the "Michigan Man" punchline that Reilly manages to trample.

The point is that Reilly, one of the most decorated sportswriters in history, now makes millions of dollars producing message board-caliber crap we try to avoid publishing on this site. He was once a custodian for esteemed sports prose whose dual purpose is impassioned narration and a dignified historical timestamp for our most-favored escape.

And now he's not, loudly. That's Reilly's crime.

He's sullying a pulpit any other writer would love to grace. He's no Madoff, but he's still a thief who will serve no time because there isn't a penalty for pillaging your own lectern. Reilly built his brand by himself. He's free to defile it at his convenience.



droessl's picture

Ramzy...shitting on Reilly.... OOOOH YEEAAAA

BTBuckeye's picture

So I guess you don't like him

BuckeyeSki's picture

BAM! Rick Roll'd
EDIT: Reilly's poem game could use some fine tuning, but the man's haiku's are off the charts!

Banned from BlackShoeDiaries since 2008. Crime: Slander/Defamation of Character Judgement: Guilty

nw_ohio_Buckeye's picture

[drops mike]...Boom! I'm out...

"The minute I think I'm getting mellow, I'm retiring. Who ever heard of a mellow winner?" ~ Woody Hayes 

AJW_16's picture

My problem with Reilly is stylistic: his one-sentence declarative paragraphs annoy the crap out of me. I've noticed that Pat Forde over at Yahoo! is now doing that a lot too. There's a level of laziness with that style, IMO: it makes it seem like you are saying something profound or edgy, but these two really just regurgitate the dominant opinion on a topic (for better or for worse).

"Sometimes you eat the bear and sometimes the bear eats you." 

MN Buckeye's picture

Reilly's poetry is too deep for the average person.

BrewstersMillions's picture

And backhanded shots to Paterno and Leno to boot? Yes please!
I really appreciate this piece though, Ramzy. Like you, I used to look forward to Reilly in SI. The way he took Sammy Sosa to task in the midst of his not so subtle PED use was always a good read for this White Sox fan who had to grow up in a world and in a city where Sammy was a more respected hitter than the Big Hurt. Slick Rick really is unreadable these days.

Do I come off as arrogant? Shame on me, I was hoping it would be more obvious.

Hovenaut's picture

Ramzy 1

Reilly 0

We have filled the Braxton Miller position.

brandonbauer87's picture

I'll be the guy to say he still does some decent work.  I think he's actually really good when talking about golf. 

Crimson's picture

But golf isn't a sport.  Didn't you read the soccer thread?

biggy84's picture

Excellent article! The majority of the sports "journalists" have the opinion that they are the smartest people in the room and the rest of us should be amazed by them. Their sense of entitlement and self importance sickens me.

9Route's picture

I'll never forget after OSU won the BCS in 2003, Reilly (who said OSU had no chance against Miami) ranted about the Terry Porter call and gave OSU no credit at all, with one of his SI backpage manifestos. Besides, I always thought that call could have also been a defensive holding penalty, (which is an automatic first down anyways).
p.s. Leno > Letterman these days. I used to like Letterman in the 90s, but he's just a bitter man the last few years. Letterman should get out of the game.

I'm just happy to be here

brandonbauer87's picture

Leno is on my list of guys I'd like to drink a beer with. 

Buckeyeneer's picture

I don't like Leno but you are right. Letterman was on his game in the 90s and I got turned off and stopped watching as he became increasingly bitter. There was no particular moment where I decided I had had enough, but I remember thinking many times, "Wow. What a terrible interview. It is obvious Letterman can't stand the person he is interviewing. Why so angry?" Eventually, I just stopped watching.

"Because the rules won't let you go for three." - Woody Hayes

THE Ohio State University

bbase22's picture

I think that Reilly is kinda following the bell curve that all of us do in a profession.  He undoubtedly peaked when he was with SI but to continue at that level for his entire career would have been nearly impossible.  How quickly and how far he has fallen is especially tragic when you consider the dizzying heights of where we grew accustomed to finding him as a writer.  I'm guessing that his contract restraints cause him to print some of the garbage he creates now but I'm sure (hopeful?) that there is now way that he's proud of it...he's got obligations and he just can't meet them like he used to.  
Sadly, there's a good chance that all of us won't be as capable at our jobs as we currently are in about 20 years.

thatlillefty's picture

Very well said. I guess it's human nature to let up once you've established yourself.

droessl's picture

Ramzy, did you mean "elocution" and not "allocution"? 

penult's picture

What, nothing to say on Peter King?

Maestro's picture

Poems are funny.

vacuuming sucks

d5k's picture

1. you have kids?
2. They watch disney junior?

Maestro's picture

I was using facetious font........duh.

vacuuming sucks

Bucksfan's picture

I really don't think Reilly has changed much since going to ESPN.  He's always been this way.  Perhaps we've just grown up.  Take a look back at Reilly's back page SI article after the 2003 Fiesta Bowl.  I mean, if you could blame one person for inciting the riot over whether that was pass interference, you'd have to pin it on Reilly.  Go back even farther.  In the press tent at the 1986 Masters, he openly asked Jack Nicklaus if he would comment on the rumors that he was broke.  It was classless, and it probably should have gotten Reilly banned from the Augusta National grounds for life.  Reilly uses it as a source of pride and nostalgia.
I did like his book Who's Your Caddy, though.  It was completely contrived, of course, as he arranged to loop for a number of celebrities for the sole purpose of writing a book.  But, it was still pretty funny.

BrooklynBuckeye's picture

I'm kinda with Buckfan. In his later SI days his columns seemed to suck, and I wondered if I had outgrown his particular kind of writing (either smarmy or schmaltzy depending on his opinion but NEVER anything else). I used to think Dave Barry was funny too, and once paid money to see Everclear, these things happen.

bukyze's picture

Reilly = smarmy douche.  Fact.  Look it up.

gbdawg's picture

Ramzy you hit the nail on the head. I too went to his column in SI before reading any other articles but now consider him a hack.

Poison nuts's picture

I don't know a lot about Reilly. I haven't read enough of his work to form an educated opinion of him...but that poem sucked. I can that that with all authority.

"Do not pass me, just slow down - I can move right through you" Superchunk - Precision Auto.