How did you become a writer?
I always wrote. When I was a kid we had our own little Home Run Derby league and I wrote a little newspaper that went with it. I made us all sound like Mickey Mantle, with lurid tales of nightclub visits and movie-star dates and heroic building-on-fire deeds. I don't know why. Don't ask. I was always writing stuff and had no idea it could be a career. I was always the guy in high school who wrote the one-act play or the skit while everybody else got to go drink beer by the creek. Finally, I won the high-school sports writing contest through my school newspaper. The guy who judged it -- anonymously -- was the assistant sports editor at my hometown Boulder (CO) Daily Camera. That summer, I got a job working as a bank teller and who was working next to me but his wife. So I bugged her every day for months. Finally, exhausted, she came in one morning and said, "Go see him." And he hired me!
Name your writing influences (writers, books, teachers, etc.).
I read "Ball Four" by Jim Bouton eight times. Practically memorized it. That life seemed so hilarious and glamorous to me. Loved Damon Runyon, especially all the "On Broadway" stories about two-bit criminals talking like Shakespeare. Must've read that 20 times. I think I've read every column ever written by Jim Murray, the great Los Angeles Times sports columnist, who was not just my hero but became my friend and mentor. Also: P.G. Wodehouse, Mike Royko, Blackie Sherrod, and Oscar Wilde, who changed my life when he wrote, "Never write a sentence you've already read." It hit me across the head like a 2-by-4 and improved my writing tenfold.
When and where do you write?
I do great on airplanes, in bars and in diners. I find writing so lonely that I need to be some place where I know life is still going on, people are still laughing, women are still sashaying. It comforts me that it will all be over soon. So I go to little cafes and coffee shops where they'll let me sit for three hours without yelling at me to move along and everybody knows not to come up to me and ask who the Minnesota Timberwolves are going to sign for their backup power forward.
What are you working on now?
Ha! Surely you jest. At ESPN? There's no time for working on anything but ESPN. ESPN is like Europe. TV is England and ESPN.com is Italy and radio is Sweden and the magazine is Germany and nobody cares about any other country but their own. They want their country to be the best country in history. So Italy doesn't care that England needs you to finish the script and England doesn't care about Sweden needing you to prep for the show. Meanwhile, Germany wants to know why you can't fly to Baltimore and do a story. ... So I've got a bunch of good movie and book ideas that sit and mope in my laptop.
Have you ever suffered from writer’s block?
No. Never. If I get stuck, I either switch diners or drink another macchiato or start in the middle and hope the lead comes bopping along later. I always tell young people who have trouble with writer's block the same thing: Write one sentence. Write the last sentence. Write a terrible sentence. Just get something on the screen and words will stick to it like hot socks on a hot towel.
What’s your advice to new writers?
Don't write for free. Why should any of these websites pay anybody if everybody's willing to write for free? And they should pay you. Huffington Post paid squat and then sold for $315 million. Associated Content paid bupkus and then sold for $100 million. You have a proven marketable skill. All these sites are starved for content and you know how to provide it. Get paid for it. Even if it's $25. They'll respect you more in the morning.
Rick Reilly, 54, has been voted National Sportswriter of the Year 11 times. He is a front-page columnist for ESPN.com and delivers television features for ESPN's Monday Night Countdown, for ESPN's and ABC's golf coverage, as well as for ESPN SportsCenter, which he also occasionally anchors.
If that doesn't keep him busy enough, he's also the host of Homecoming with Rick Reilly, ESPN's one-hour interview show which has featured Michael Phelps, John Elway and Magic Johnson, among many others. He is also an occasional anchor for SportsCenter.
He is the author of 10 books, including his latest -- Sports From Hell, My Search for the World’s Dumbest Competition (Doubleday). The book was a finalist for the 2011 Thurber Prize. It’s the account of his three-year search for the dumbest sport in the world. Not to give anything away, but a good bet would be either Ferret Legging or the World Sauna Championships. It also includes embarrassing attempts by Reilly to try Nude Bicycle Racing, Zorbing, Chess Boxing, Extreme Ironing, the World Rock Paper Scissors Championships, and an unfortunate week on a women’s pro football team.
Reilly won the 2009 Damon Runyon Award for Outstanding Contributions to Journalism, an honor previously won by Jimmy Breslin, Tim Russert, Bob Costas, Mike Royko, George Will, Ted Turner and Tom Brokaw, among others. Three times his columns have been read into the record in the U.S. Congress. An astronaut once took his signed trading card into space.
The New York Daily News called him “one of the funniest humans on the planet.” Publishers Weekly called him, “an indescribable amalgam of Dave Barry, Jim Murray, and Lewis Grizzard, with the timing of Jay Leno and the wit of Johnny Carson.”
He has written about everything from ice skater Katarina Witt behind the Iron Curtain to actor Jack Nicholson in the front row, from wrestling priests in Mexico City to mushers at the Iditarod, from playing golf with President Clinton to playing golf with O.J. Simpson and back again. He was once President Obama's fantasy football partner for a week. He has five times had the disagreeable task of accompanying the models on the annual Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue. He was once featured in a Miller Lite ad with swimsuit cover girl Rebecca Romijn (Stamos). In July of 2010, he survived running with the bulls of Pamplona, Spain. Twice.
For nearly 23 years – from 1985 until 2007 -- his breezy, hilarious and yet often emotional style graced the pages of Sports Illustrated. For the last 10 there, he wrote the popular “Life of Reilly” column, which ran on the last page. It was the first signed weekly opinion column in the magazine’s long history. He is “the Tiger Woods of sports columnists,” says Bloomberg News.
Reilly is the founder of the anti-malaria effort Nothing But Nets (NothingButNets.net), which had raised over $36 million (as of September, 2011) to hang mosquito nets over kids in Africa, where 3,000 children die every day of the disease. A partnership with the United Nations Foundation, every dollar goes to buying the nets. (NothingButNets.net) Wrote the Denver Post, “Nothing but Nets is one charity that scores big.”
His last collection -- “Hate Mail from Cheerleaders" -- included 100 of his best SI columns. The foreword is by Lance Armstrong. It became a New York Times bestseller in its first week.
His current novel “Shanks for Nothing” (Doubleday) is a madcap golf romp that cracked the New York Times bestseller list. It’s the sequel to Reilly’s cult classic “Missing Links” (Doubleday), whose film rights were recently sold to Steve Carell, star of NBC’s The Office. Both books revolve around regulars at the worst public course in America – Ponkaquogue Municipal Golf Links and Deli -- and the insane bets, pranks and camaraderie that goes on there. The New York Times hailed “Missing Links” as “three laughs per page.”
In Reilly’s previous book -- “Who’s Your Caddy?” (Doubleday) -- he caddies for everyone from Jack Nicklaus to Donald Trump to a $50,000-a-hole gambler. It rose to No. 3 on the New York Times best-seller list.
His first collection of columns -- “The Life of Reilly: The Best of Sports Illustrated’s Rick Reilly” -- was also a New York Times bestseller.
Slo-Mo: My Untrue Story, (Doubleday) is a farce on the NBA, which the Denver Post called, “a romp that could have been written only by someone who has seen the game from the inside.”
Reilly is the co-author of the movie "Leatherheads," the comic romance centered on the 1924 Duluth Eskimos of the fledgling NFL, starring George Clooney, Renee Zellweger and John Krasinski. It opened on April 4, 2008. MTV called it “a small, unassuming jewel.” And USA Today wrote: “Leatherheads is a real winner.”
His ESPN interview show Homecoming, is a kind of cross between This is Your Life and Inside the Actor’s Studio, for sports. The show goes deep inside the life of America’s greatest athletes. Filmed in front of a live audience, usually at the guest’s high school or college, it’s full of surprises, with home video, interviews with old teammates and coaches, family, friends and rivals. Jerry Rice, Dwayne Wade, Chris Paul, Emmitt Smith, Billie Jean King, Donovan McNabb and Tony Hawk have been guests, to name a few. "That was the greatest night of my life," soccer star Landon Donovan said of it. Magic Johnson called it, "The most fun interview I've ever done."
Probably too curious for his own good, Reilly has flown upside down at 600 miles per hour in an F-14, faced fastballs from Nolan Ryan, jumped from 14,000 feet with the U.S. Army Parachute Team, driven a stock car 142 miles per hour, piloted the Goodyear blimp, competed against 107 women for a spot in the WNBA, worked three innings of play-by-play for the Colorado Rockies, bicycled with Lance Armstrong, driven a monster truck over six parked cars, worked as a rodeo bullfighter, and found out the hard way how many straight par 3s he’d have to play before he made a hole in one (694).
Reilly has won numerous awards in his 30-year writing career, including the prestigious New York Newspaper Guild's Page One Award for Best Magazine Story. He is the co-author of ``The Boz,'' the best-selling autobiography of bad-boy Oklahoma linebacker Brian Bosworth; “Gretzky,'' with hockey superstar Wayne Gretzky of the Los Angeles Kings; ``I'd Love to but I Have a Game'' with NBC announcer Marv Albert, and the ``The Wit and Wisdom of Charles Barkley.''
Reilly began his career in 1979 taking phoned-in high-school volleyball scores for his hometown Boulder (Colo.) Daily Camera while a sophomore at the University of Colorado, from which he was graduated in 1981. He wrote for two years at the Camera, two more at the Denver Post and two more at the Los Angeles Times, before moving to Sports Illustrated in 1985.
Reilly dabbles in magic, piano, mountain biking, SCUBA, back-alley basketball, skiing and snowboarding. He lives in Denver and Hermosa Beach, CA, with his wife -- The Lovely Cynthia -- and a putter he’s not currently speaking to.
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