Many of The Athletic’s recent hires have been Sports Illustrated alums, especially since former SI group editorial director Paul Fichtenbaum landed there last summer. They continued that trend Wednesday with the hire of one of the most prominent ex-SI writers, but someone whose recent prominence hasn’t come for anything positive: Rick Reilly.
Reilly tweeted about his first piece there Wednesday, complete with the requisite subscription promo:
Thrilled to start contributing to The Athletic, the best thing to happen 2 sportswriting since Marriott points. Here's my first take on Tiger et al. You want in? Get 40% off a subscription by using https://t.co/hBnNQq9EjGhttps://t.co/fVI724Ui9F
— Rick Reilly (@ReillyRick) May 9, 2018
Reilly wrote for SI from 1985 to 2008, when he left for ESPN and a contract reportedly worth up to $3 million annually. But his ESPN contributions worked out so poorly that said contract became one of the go-to standards for bad sports media contracts, and he mostly made headlines for things that didn’t work out, such as an interview show that was yanked after 13 episodes, repeated self-plagiarism, misquotes (of his own father-in-law, even), his attempt to get on-air credit for something he didn’t report, and a whole lot of terrible tweets.
The Worldwide Leader extended his contract in 2013 for some reason, but he gradually gave up or lost role after role following that, from columns to Monday Night Countdown features. And he hadn’t been heard from in a while, so the world probably presumed he was sitting on a beach crafting dental puns. But for some reason, The Athletic decided he’s a valuable addition, and they’re since getting clowned on for it:
it’s important that we commit to building a diverse staff, look for fresh new voices, and bring aboard writers who understand the state of modern sports and where it’s headed
welcome, rick reilly!
— Erik Malinowski (@erikmal) May 9, 2018
Rick Reilly is an unapologetic hack who misquoted his own father-in-law to defend a racist team name. So, uh, no thanks @TheAthleticHQ
— Bill P (@Bill_TPA) May 9, 2018
The Athletic hired Rick Reilly? in 2018?
— Born Salty (@cjzero) May 9, 2018
I wish The Athletic had something more than a paywall to put Rick Reilly behind. maybe a pay-bank vault, beyond a pay-enchanted bridge where you must solve a troll's 3 riddles
— Matthew Callan (@scratchbomb) May 9, 2018
Congrats to The Athletic on hiring Rick Reilly!!
Can’t wait for his first column on all the ways Kate Upton makes his wiener feel weird pic.twitter.com/zKwaOHS3zb
— Tyler Conway (@jtylerconway) May 9, 2018
my condolences to everyone who is now coworkers with Rick Reilly
— Marc Normandin🌹 (@Marc_Normandin) May 9, 2018
Rick Reilly in the Athletic and I suddenly want a refund on my subscription.
— Nikolai Denmark (@NikolaiDenmark) May 9, 2018
An overall challenge with The Athletic is that they’re trying to attract so many different kinds of sports fans that they’re certain to hire some personalities some fans can’t stand. And there’s always the argument that readers don’t have to read everything on the site (which is surely impossible at this point anyway, given how many people The Athletic has hired), and that they can choose what’s relevant to them and ignore the rest.
But going with a personality who draws as much criticism and negativity as Reilly is certainly a bold move. It’s possible that this could build a following with an older audience who fondly remembers Reilly’s SI work, but it’s also possible that this will turn off a lot of people who remember what he’s done recently. Bringing in a controversial figure like Reilly is certainly a notable move for the site, and it will be interesting to see how it turns out.