On Search Buttons: Reilly and Slate and Those Nasty Little Things Called Facts

Rick Reilly has yet to write something for ESPN that I have found compelling.  It's just a fact: he doesn't have an opinion, he barely has a voice, and he makes stale jokes mostly revolving around bad metaphors.  It's like Reilly has taken "original metaphors" to mean "other bland, cliche-sounding metaphors"  Witness, from just his latest column:

He has become a human Bud Light commercial

And it's not easy to flatten Lionel, who is as pessimistic as a rainbow and twice as colorful

Now, these aren't bad on any kind of technical level, I guess they just sound trite to me.  Regardless, a week ago, Reilly penned this column about Larry Fitzgerald Sr., a writer for the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder, and the conundrum he faces regarding covering the superbowl this year, which will prominently feature his son, Larry Fitzgerald Jr.  It's fluff; it's Reilly.  I don't really have a problem with this; it's what the Superbowl media week is meant to accomplish; fan friendly stories that create a sense of rooting interest amongst a nation 90% disinterested in the two teams.  Here's the upshot of the Reilly column

"I won't cheer," [from the pressbox - B2] says Fitzgerald. "I'm going to stay objective. I've come too far to suddenly show up in the press box with pom-poms. But if you could put a monitor on my insides, you'd find a whole fan club in there."

If it were my son, I'd go into the bathroom every three minutes and scream into the blow dryer, but not Fitzgerald. He's so old-school he's going to be two people during the big week: parent and sportswriter, and never the twain shall meet. "I'm not crossing any lines," he says. He'll take Larry to dinner at night off the record and interview him during the days on, the first sportswriter anyone can think of to ever cover his own son in the Super Bowl. "I'll be at his interview table, trying to get my questions in, just like everybody else."

What I do have a problem with is the fact that, as it turns out, Larry Fitzgerald has never really exactly been the shining beacon of journalistic integrity when covering his own son, as Josh Levin, writer for Slate Magazine has uncovered

Fitzgerald Sr.'s column in the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder, a weekly African-American newspaper, is less a work of journalism than a proud parent's scrapbook. Judging by the last two issues, the Spokesman-Recorder doesn't run straight game stories, meaning that Fitzgerald Sr.'s columns represent the bulk of the paper's writing about football. As such, the Spokesman-Recorder sports section is essentially a Larry Fitzgerald Jr. tribute page—since 2003, the elder Fitzgerald has written about his son at least 23 times.

Not exactly the no-cheering-from-the-press-box-stoically-proud-father that Reilly paints him as.  Not that I blame LF Sr.  He's proud of his son, who by all evidence looks to be a great young man and is certainly a phenomenal receiver.  I don't have a problem with fawning parent/journalist except that it has been totally misrepresented by Reilly, and others of his ilk.  Wouldn't it have made a much more compelling column for Reilly to have written about how Sr. tries, and sometimes fails, to walk the line between proud parent and journalist?  Reilly could have leveled some fair criticism while still painting Sr. in a good light: journalist stuck in a tough spot trying to do the best he can.  Why wasn't this column written?  Are we too dumb for actual sports journalism?  Reilly is, without a doubt, one of the highest paid writers in the medium, shouldn't we expect more from him than fluff pieces of dubious accuracy?

More damning still is Reilly response to the Slate column;  Via Deadspin:

Reilly: "Looks like someone just got a new search button and decided to use it."

Yes, Rick, Levin has a search button, and he used it.  More importantly, why didn't you use it?  I haven't read much of Josh Levin (maybe I will start) but here a writer for Slate magaize - an online publication with nary a sports section (they do have some dedicated space entitled "the sports nut" but not a section by any means) - has managed to write a more compelling column than a uber-high-paid writer writing for a website that is not only is dedicated to sports, but purports itself as the worldwide leader in sports.  Does anyone else see a problem here?

Look - you don't need me to tell you that ESPN is watered down and so tied to The Mouse that they're afraid to do anything that could be controversial, but often times they're the only choice.  ESPN is great, and I mean great at televising games, and giving us sheer coverage of events, but the analysis is microfiber thin.  I would be willing to bet that, along with the print edition, Reilly's misleading article reached double (triple? more?) the readership of the much more compelling, much more factual Slate piece. 

And you know?  That kind of sucks.  There isn't much to do about it except scream OUTRAGE and I suppose that's what I'm doing here.  Support good blogs.  Support people like Levin who have the wherewithall to use a search button.  It's not that hard, Rick, and my guess is that your column would be much more compelling for it.

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