Hire Me Grantland vs Rick Reilly: Or, Why Old Guys Hate Young Writers

August 6, 2012 9:27 am 1 comment

“So this is the ‘new style of journalism’ we gotta learn?” — Rick Reilly, 2008

HMGL’s Editor in Chief is a little tired of old guys being condescending about sports journalism. His favorite sportswriter growing up — ESPN’s Rick Reilly, formerly of SI — is the prime example. 

Matt Ford

Rick Reilly used to be the best sportswriter on the planet.

Ask any sports fan — no, it doesn’t matter how old they are — what they did with Sports Illustrated when it came in the mail from 1997-2007.

In a magazine rich with the best sports features, photos and opinions in the business, we all went to one place first. Remember?

The last page.

Rick Reilly’s Life of Reilly” pieces were the last truly great national print sports columns. My first-ever Internet purchase was a donation to his “Nothing But Nets” campaign; I cried reading about Pat Tillman and less renowned athletes who died in war; I marveled at his reporting.

From the big leagues to the little leagues, Reilly found the best stories: Who else could challenge Sammy Sosa to a drug test one week and cover a little-league baseball game in Utah the next?

But unlike Reilly’s SI columns, his run as The Best Sportswriter On Earth ended suddenly and ungracefully.

In 2008, Reilly defected to ESPN. He now appears on television, in print and online.

ESPN thought: Let’s rob our competition of its best writer, pair him with our best writer, and give the best-selling author a chance to spread his wings in multimedia.

Now, young sports fans think: You’d be more likely to find us reading a newspaper than reading his columns.

What happened?

Rick Reilly has begun to annoy the way The Newsroom sometimes does. His view of journalism is nostalgic, quaint, and insulated. Reilly harkens to a fictitious Golden Era when humble scribes on typewriters wouldn’t be caught dead, say, getting paid $17 million to write for the largest American journalistic monopoly in history.

Reilly strikes us as one of those guys that probably drinks $1,000-dollar-bottles of scotch in his living room, telling whoever will listen that the Internet is diluting everyone’s minds, that sportswriting, journalism, and intellectualism are dead.

Let me get to the point.

Bill Simmons, the man who usurped Reilly’s title as The Best Sportswriter Around, has enfranchised millions of sports fans and given voice to a new kind of sports journalism.

It was Simmons himself who inspired this website, and everything from our content to our title aims to attract his attention.

Reilly inspired a different website (which, appropriately, is our polar opposite).

Here’s why.

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As a case study: A few days ago, Reilly started an argument with his 90,000 Twitter followers (Simmons has 1.8 million, which may something about the readers to whom those writers cater) about Michael Phelps’ standing as the Greatest Of All Time (GOAT) in Olympic history.

Instead of considering a logical, rational argument — Michael Phelps is the most decorated Olympian of all time, therefore making him the best ever — Reilly did that thing your uncle does when he gets drunk at family functions.

Reilly, your drunken uncle, dismissed those notions, saying: “You’re wrong because you’re young and don’t have ample context.” (Except my uncles are not that articulate, sober or not.)

I have a few problems with Reilly’s argument. Phelps not only has more medals than any athlete and more world records than any other swimmer, but he also is competing against better competition and a bigger, more global pool of athletes than ever. Not to mention… I mean, have you seen Phelps???

Reilly’s wrong, but it’s how he says it that gets me. He’s also an asshole. He’s worse than Walter, who was at least right.

That’s right, the man who said in 2003 that a 24-year-old Kobe Bryant might be better than Michael Jordan is accusing young fans of being ignorant of sports history. More importantly, he perpetuates a myth older people have conveniently woven about our generation which suggests we are illiterate or lazy.

Simple math (22 medals > everyone else) suggests Phelps, the most decorated Olympian of all time, is also the best of all time.

And you don’t need a book to tell you that.

“Bill Simmons writes so many words… I think it’s harder to be short. He’s obviously a brilliant writer. I think he needs a Greyhound bus full of editors… He grew up with no fences. I grew up with an eight-hundred word fence: that’s how long a column was… He loves the games and I love the people who play them.”

– Reilly from Those Guys Have All The Fun, pp. 664-665

That quotation is from the behind-the-scenes book about the founding of ESPN.

So, to whom Reilly told “read a book,” don’t be offended. Reilly even thinks the greatest sportswriter of the moment is ignorant. (And he seems to use that Greyhound bus analogy a little too often.)

Read that quote carefully and you will see how condescending Reilly is.

You see, Reilly loves people, Simmons loves games. Precious little Simmons, who loves his games, his stats and his silly TV shows. How adorable.

Meanwhile, Reilly hoists himself over Simmons and the rest of us, covering “people” instead of games. (Like covering good, wholesome Tiger Woods, for whom Reilly has an unyielding love.)

Rick Reilly, we get it. You want to matter. You say journalism is going by the wayside because the way things are going, it doesn’t look like the future is carving out a place for you.

Tough shit.

Simmons isn’t the only target of Reilly’s cynicism. Reilly would likely dismiss this site as amateurish. He said once:

There’s some good journalism, and some really horrible crap on there from guys holding down the couch springs in their mother’s basement that have never been in a locker room but are pining on this and that… So this is the ‘new style of journalism’ we gotta learn?

Therein lies the fundamental problem we have with Rick Reilly. Sure, he didn’t say that about this website in particular, but the point remains:

Journalism does not belong to one person. Or professional journalists, anymore.

Everyone who wants to try to write should do just that.

The Internet gives everyone a chance to join the discussion, which is potentially chaotic — only if you don’t understand how the Internet works. The Internet is democratic: only the determined, the accurate and the entertaining get noticed, as we hope to, one day.

How is that a bad thing?

Be a real journalist, Rick — do a little research before making your conclusions.

Matt Ford is the Editor in Chief of Hire Me Grantland. And, yes, Rick Reilly, he has spent time in real locker rooms and journalism schools. Read Matt’s review of The Newsroom here, his recap of the insane Fred Davis trial here, or his diatribe against hipsters here. Or bring it on home

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