‘I never thought it would pay off like this’

Justin Metz

Columnist Rick Reilly shares experience with Tuscarawas audience

Rick Reilly, sports columnist for the ESPN magazine and Sports Illustrated, spoke to a full crowd at Founders Hall at the Kent Tuscarawas Campus. Reilly shared some of his most comically memorable moments as a sports writer. Sam Twarek | Daily Kent Stater

Credit: DKS Editors

Three weeks before the presidential election, Barack Obama held a meeting on his bus in Dayton. He wasn’t meeting with a senator or foreign delegate, but with his fantasy football partner – Rick Reilly.

This is the life of Reilly. During his career, the author, television personality and longtime sports columnist has covered every sport imaginable and met plenty of interesting people along the way. He shared some of his most memorable experiences at the Tuscarawas campus last night as part of the campus’ Voices of Distinction Series.

“I always knew I could write,” Reilly said. “But I never thought it would pay off like this.”

Reilly was a Sports Illustrated columnist for 22 years where he gained notoriety for his “Life of Reilly” column, which appeared on the magazine’s last page. While at the magazine, Reilly’s wit and insight on the world of sports earned him the National Sportswriter of the Year award 11 times.

After leaving Sports Illustrated last year, Reilly went to work for ESPN. He now writes a column for ESPN: The Magazine and regularly appears on ESPN television programs.

During his speech at the Tuscarawas campus, Reilly shared humorous anecdotes from his career as a sportswriter, such as the time he played golf with President Bill Clinton.

“He didn’t quite cheat . He kind of cheated,” Reilly said. “He wouldn’t take mulligans, but would take what we call ‘Billigans.'”

According to Reilly, a “Billigan” is when a player hits five or six balls off every tee, just for practice.

“He didn’t care that people were waiting to play six-hour rounds,” Reilly said. “He’s Bill Clinton. He gets to do whatever the hell he wants.”

When he’s not golfing with the president, Reilly covers sporting events across the nation. He said the best event he covered took place in a men’s shower.

Reilly was waiting in the locker room for an interview with quarterback John Elway after the Denver Broncos had just won the Super Bowl. While in the room he heard Elway shouting from the shower.

“I said, ‘that’s the sound of a guy finally achieving something he thought he would never get,'” Reilly recalled. “Then the towel guy said ‘no, we just ran out of hot water.'”

Evan Cameron, a junior at nearby Dover High School, said Reilly is one of his favorite writers.

“He’s always funny when he writes, but I wasn’t sure how he would be in person,” Cameron said. “He’s so funny and really enjoyable to listen to.”

Over his career, Reilly has been behind the wheel of a monster truck, the Goodyear blimp and an F-14 fighter jet. He’s even faced fast balls from Nolan Ryan.

But while Reilly could speak of encounters like these for hours, he said the best stories aren’t the ones about celebrities. According to Reilly, the best stories are the ones that really affect people such as the cross country runner with cerebral palsy or the marathon runner whose donated lungs gave him a new lease on life.

His passion for seeing lives changed is what challenged Reilly to start the Nothing But Nets campaign. He ended his time at the Tuscarawas Campus by speaking about his efforts.

The grassroots campaign is an effort to save lives by providing bed nets for African children. The nets protect against Malaria, which is a leading killer of children in Africa.

Reilly said a net is purchased with every ten dollars donated to the campaign. To date, they have raised $22 million.

“Don’t buy the Britney Spears CD that’s 20 bucks,” Reilly encouraged the audience. “You’ll save two lives, plus your own because you didn’t have to listen to Britney Spears.”

Contact regional campus reporter Justin Metz at [email protected].