The Rock star of sports writing
Rick Reilly (Jour’81), an ESPN columnist since 2008 and writer at Sports Illustrated for 23 years prior, will be inducted into the National Sportscasters and Sportswriters Association Hall of Fame in June. The Denver and Hermosa Beach, Calif., resident will stop writing his ESPN column on July 1 but will continue to do ESPN TV broadcasts and essays during football season. His 11th book, Tiger, meet my sister … and other things I probably shouldn’t have said, was released in May. It’s a collection of his best columns during his time at ESPN.
You’re an 11-time National Sportswriter of the Year, but what does the Hall of Fame mean to you?
It’s probably the best award I’ve ever gotten because (former L.A. Times columnist) Jim Murray is in it. He’s my hero and mentor. I admired everything he did and everything he wrote. Sportswriter Hall of Fame: It sounds like, ‘Hey, here’s the skinniest girl at the fat farm.’ But I don’t care. I’m in it.
When did you start writing sports?
I started in 1979 covering (coach) Rene Portland and the Lady Buffs basketball team. They blew somebody out, and she was eight months pregnant. My lead was something like, ‘If every game is like the University of Colorado women’s basketball team’s 91-42 blowout of Weber State, Rene Portland’s obstetrician will be a very happy man.’
It’s been a lot of fun. I don’t think I’ve stopped writing sports, except for the six months between when I jumped from Sports Illustrated to ESPN and they made me quit. That’s when I realized how great life was if I didn’t have to write on a schedule. After doing TV work for ESPN during this fall’s football season, I think I’ll go over to Italy to write books. I’m not going to do jack squat, and on weekends I’m not even going to do that.
You started the “Nothing But Nets” anti-malaria campaign.
In 2006 I was stuck for a column idea. My daughter told me how 3,000 kids a day die simply because they don’t sleep under a malaria net in Africa. I said, ‘You’ve got to be kidding.’
So I started this thing called Nothing But Nets. I called up the United Nations Foundation, which had something kind of like it. I said, ‘Can you put a little box on your website where people can donate to it?’ They said, ‘Sure,’ and we got $100,000 the first week, and then it just took off. We’re at $46 million now in eight years. The whole anti-malaria net movement has reduced the disease to less than 2,000 deaths per day now. This is a disease we can wipe out.
Do you still have a soft spot in your heart for CU?
I loved it there, but almost all of my journalism education came from former Daily Camera sports editor Dan Creedon.
I’m a sophomore in college cranking out stories, covering the Broncos, writing columns, doing headlines, writing captions, getting yelled at and getting things thrown at me by Creedon. Then I am going to the bar at 1 a.m. and having him explain all the things I did wrong. Then I get to my 8 o’clock class at CU and they’re talking about the Pennywhistle Press and stuff. It was a fine education — don’t get me wrong — but it was nothing like the University of Creedon.
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