Monday, October 11, 2010
In the past, I’ve been critical of Rick Reilly for being a lazy, unfunny hack of a sportswriter who has coasted along on his name and popularity for more than a decade. But I’ve felt a little guilty about the things I’ve said about him—who am I to criticize a man who has won numerous awards for his sportswriting, who has donated a lot of time and money to the worthy cause of getting malaria-preventing mosquito nets, and who is under pressure every week to produce a column. So what if sometimes he writes a hideously banal column? They can’t all be gems So what if he doesn’t understand soccer? Most American men of his generation don’t. So what if he’s occasionally schmaltzy? There’s a place for that in the world of sports, and maybe I’ve grown too hardened and cynical to appreciate his childlike idealism.
But then on Friday I saw this column and realized I was right the first time: Rick Reilly is a lazy hack who has been half-assing it for at least a decade, probably more, and he deserves to be criticized constantly and mercilessly until he decides to retire from sports journalism and write golf-themed crime caper novels a la Dave Barry or Carl Hiassen.
Let’s break this particular piece of hackwork down. For starters, we’re in the middle of both the college and professional football seasons, and MLB playoffs have just started, so it’s odd that Reilly would pick this time to write about the NBA, which isn’t in the news much. It’s also odd that he’s talking about nicknames for Miami’s star-stuffed team now rather than three months ago, when the team came together. That would have been the time to discuss nicknames—that was when Free Darko ran its “What should we call the LeBron-Wade-Bosh sandwich” piece.
Comparing FD’s column and Reilly’s shows how much more bloggers put into their work than “traditional media” dinosaurs like Reilly. Reilly’s piece is just a list of possible names with no commentary, no context, and no actual thought behind it. Some of the names (“ThreeHeat,” “Menage-a-Dunk,” “Terminators 3”) are so aggressively awful that a sports writer for a college paper would be ashamed to print them. It seems like an early draft of notes for a column rather then a column itself.
Free Darko’s piece, on the other hand, has less nickname suggestions but all of them are considered. You get a bunch of factoids about the Yalta Conference and the history of ancient Rome, and some jokes—actual jokes, unlike Reilly’s middle-aged puns—about the geometry of triangles. It’s way too nerdy and esoteric for ESPN’s audience, sure, but Reilly’s column--or collection of words, or whatever we’re supposed to call a poorly presented list of unfunny nicknames—insults the intelligence of any sports fan who’s out of fifth grade. Seriously, “The Brothers Rim?” That sounds like the title of a particularly hard-core piece of gay porn.
For the record, I don’t think Reilly stole this idea from Free Darko, none of whose proposed nicknames appear on his list. There are only so many topics in the sports world to write about, and no one has a monopoly on jokey listicles. I also don’t think it’s plagiarism because I doubt Reilly reads Free Darko, which is one of the most popular basketball blogs on the web and should probably be required reading for anyone who writes about sports for a living. I don’t think Reilly reads Free Darko because I believe that like John McCain, Reilly never goes online or even touches a computer. I picture him dictating whatever thoughts are floating in his scotch-addled brain to the hooker or 39-year-old cocktail waitress happens to be sharing his hotel room, who then transcribes them on a Selectric typewriter. The hooker then faxes the stream-of-consciousness transcript, misspellings and all, to an ESPN sub-editor, who sighs, crumples the fax into a ball and throws it out, and writes a column in Reilly’s name in about ten minutes. Reilly never notices this substitution, because like most people on planet Earth, it’s been years since he’s read a word he’s written.