It's been a busy day in Bristol. After kicking Brent Musburger out of the #1 college football booth and down to the SEC Network, now another famous sports personality is taking a significant step back.
ESPN announced today that Rick Reilly will no longer be writing his weekly column for ESPN.com as of July 1st. Then, Reilly will focus exclusively on his television essays for ESPN in addition to his book writing:
Rick Reilly, ESPN.com’s long-time front-page columnist, has decided to go part-time. Beginning July 1, Reilly will let his weekly column go and concentrate on television duties for ESPN’s Monday Night Countdown, presenting his weekly four-minute human interest features as well as other features and essays for SportsCenter and Sunday NFL Countdown.
“It was an unusual request,” Reilly joked. “I’m thankful they’re letting me do it.”
The announcement comes at a very interesting time with ESPN welcoming Nate Silver and the 538 brand to its corporate umbrella beginning next Monday. It's a true changing of the guard in Bristol, and perhaps it's representative of the entire sportswriting industry. Out goes a multi-time national sportswriter of the year who has made his living on columns based on first-person perspective and storytelling. In comes one of the most renowned stat-junkies of modern times to lead an entire armada of writers that will be based in numbers.
Reilly's decision ends what can be most optimistically labeled as a major disappointment at ESPN over the last few years. The decision to give up his weekly column should be all the more of a letdown for Bristol seeing as how ESPN re-signed Reilly to a new contract in 2013. After signing his initial mega-contract to jump from Sports Illustrated to ESPN, Reilly's work has been marred with healthy criticism and several controversies. Among them recycling old jokes multiple times and most infamously, misquoting his own father-in-law. The two best words to describe Reilly's ESPN tenure might be "mailed" and "in."
Although it's easy to pile on Reilly for an ESPN tenure that has been far from memorable, this is still the end of an era. Rick Reilly was in his prime the preeminent sportswriter in America. He was the face of Sports Illustrated when the magazine industry was not a barren wasteland. He inspired a generation of sportswriters that you see taking up column space in print and online today. In the wake of his work at ESPN not being up to that quality, let's not forget what he has contributed to the industry as a whole.
Nevertheless, that writing career will be over soon. Rick Reilly's a TV guy now. Maybe it'll give him time to break more stories on Twitter.