Rick Reilly Is Stealing My Material

Rick Reilly uses the celebrity washroom.

It's conveniently located down a short flight of stairs just off of the main dining room at Edgewood Tahoe, which was the host course of last weekend's American Century Championship celebrity golf tournament. If a spectator or a lowly journalist attempts to use the washroom, he is shooed away by two muscular security guards. Only the likes of Tony Romo, Ray Romano and, yes, Rick Reilly, are allowed to use it.

Rick Reilly is a big deal now; a giant among Lilliputians, having recently signed a contract for $10 million over five years at ESPN. That's more than Homer, Twain, Steinbeck and Shakespeare ever made in a year combined. It was Twain who once famously said of golf that it was "a good walk spoiled," but Reilly has no such qualms; he's fashioned a career around it. This was his first trip here, where he rubbed elbows with fellow competitors such as Michael Jordan, Wayne Gretzky and Dan Quayle. Perhaps he even ran into Quayle in the exclusive restroom, remarking to the former Vice President on how soft the towels were (I know because I had sneaked in there during Thursday's practice round, before it was being guarded).

On Friday, mine and Reilly's assignments were basically the same. I was live-blogging Charles Barkley's round for NBCSports.com, and Reilly was in the actual threesome (David Wells was the other). I stood on the periphery, trailing the group behind the ropes, while Reilly hobnobbed with Sir Charles up close. Occasionally Rick would produce a notepad from his back pocket and jot down notes, usually as he walked the fairway. It was clear that he was working on a column about Barkley.

This is the new journalism: Celebrities writing about celebrities. Reilly occasionally had to put away his notebook to sign autographs; something with which I imagine Grantland Rice or Red Smith never had to contend. Today, Chris Berman and Harold Reynolds are the story. Dan Patrick's job search is bigger news than Richie Sexon's. And journalists — writers — command multi-million dollar salaries. What would J. Jonah Jameson say to that?

And here's what ESPN is getting for their $2 million per. In his column on Barkley, Reilly described Sir Charles' golf swing thusly:

Technically, it's not even a swing. It's a lunge. Scientists study it. He gets to the top, starts down and then-two feet from impact-just stops! Totally freezes! He looks like a man waiting for a rattlesnake to pop up so he can kill it.

A day earlier on my NBC blog, I had written:

I suppose I should talk a little about Barkley's swing. It's segmented, of course - three different swings, really. There are two hitches, and then a final approach that may or may not actually strike the ball. A friend of mine describes it like this: "It looks like Barkley is in the middle of his swing, and suddenly sees a snake."

It was Tim Parsons of the Tahoe Daily Tribune who used the snake line, so technically Reilly is aping him, not me.

Anyway, I missed Rick at the tournament (washroom attendants can be forceful), and tried to call him at Harrah's, where all the "celebritries" were sequestered. No luck. I got hold of his personal email, and tried that. As of this writing — a week later — he hasn't responded. Hey, big stars are busy people.

I wanted to get Reilly's take on all of this journalist-as-celebrity business, with one main question burning a hole in my notepad. Dick Anderson, the former Miami Dolphins great and member of the 1972 unbeaten team, was not invited to the tournament this year; this despite having played in all 18 previous American Centuries, even winning the event in 1994. From what I heard, he wasn't asked back because he "wasn't famous enough." So Rick; how do you feel about the fact that you, a journalist, had taken his spot? When did the lines between athletes and the people who cover them become so blurred? And what entree did they serve in the players' dining room, where the rest of us lowly reporters were not allowed to go?

Anyway, that's what I would have asked him, had he returned my email. Maybe I should have enlisted Quayle to intervene in my behalf.

Life Of Reilly: A Day On The Links With The Round Mound Whose Swing Will Astound [ESPN]