If you haven’t yet jumped at the opportunity, take a moment out of your life and read Rick Reilly’s excellent ESPN.com column on the kid who was bullied at school, and the Philadelphia Eagles who befriended him. Truly an excellent piece of writing; Rick at his best.
Ever since he departed Sports Illustrated for ESPN in 2008, Rick has taken a ton of crap for the quality of his material. And, I’ll admit (and I’m willing to bet Rick would admit), it hasn’t all been his best stuff. But what people forget—and what readers definitely forget—is that maintaining one’s fastball, in writing, is really hard. It’s certainly not a matter of talent: I can assure you that Rick, age 52, is as talented as he was at 35 or 40 or 45. No, what becomes more difficult is the motivation; the drive; the passion. Cover sports long enough, the story lines repeat themselves. Over. And over. And over. The kid overcoming the odds. The yin-yang teammates. The big trade. The first-round bust. The woman making her mark in a man’s sport. The fan’s perspective. Profiling a food. Because we are humans confined by the limitations of organized athletics, there is a finite number of things that can happen. A team will overcome the odds. Another team will fail to meet expectations. At the end of the season, there’ll be a large celebration involving bubbly and goggles. Someone will say, “Nobody believed we could do this!” Someone else will say, “We’ve stuck together and fought like crazy.” Before Tiger there was Jack. Before Jack there was Arnold. On and on.
So when you’re Rick, or Steve Rushin, or Jason Whitlock, or Bill Simmons, or Mike Lupica, or Tom Verducci, or Selena Roberts, or Dave Anderson, or, well, any of us, the challenge isn’t staying sharp.
It’s continuing to care, when you’ve witnessed it all before.
People have said, “Why doesn’t Rick write the long features he used to do so well at SI?” I’ve never asked Rick, but I’ll take a guess: Because he doesn’t want to. He mastered that, and desired to move on.
I don’t blame him.