Guest-Editing A Sports Blog Is Like Flossing A Crocodile

Hi, my name is Josh and I'm the sports editor at Slate. You may remember me from such counterintuitive articles as "Joe Buck: American hero" and "Jason McElwain: He's probably not autistic, and that other team sucked at defense anyway."

A.J. has asked me to be your guest-editor for the day. I hope you enjoy this desperate stuntcasting—it's like the Harlem Globetrotters going to Gilligan's Island, except if the Globetrotters were a lone white guy who couldn't play basketball very well.

Now, a few words about Rick Reilly®. In December, I wrote a story about Mr. Reilly's penchant for dental humor, listing the 116 tooth jokes he'd told in his career to date. In an interview with Newsday's Neil Best, Reilly claimed he didn't understand my point. "I told the guy he should stick it in his cavity," the ESPN columnist said. (Note: Reilly did not, in fact, tell me to stick it in my cavity.) "I couldn't tell if he was trying to be tongue in cheek or he really thought it was a problem. He never said, 'The guy repeats himself.' What he said was, 'Gosh, the guy uses a lot of dental references.' What he didn't say was, 'He uses the same one over and over.' "

Reilly is right: I never explicitly said that he repeats himself. I did say that he'd made 13 separate wisecracks about floss, including jokes about flossing sharks (three), crocodiles, and rhinos. But that isn't quite the same as saying "the guy repeats himself." So, for the record: The guy repeats himself.

He also plagiarizes himself, as documented by Deadspin's Ben Cohen. In his end-of-2008 column for ESPN.com, Reilly noted that "two very blocked writers were caught plagiarizing" him in the preceding months, a development he characterized as "like robbing a soup kitchen." Stealing from yourself, then, must be like re-heating soup that's been rotting in your pantry for six years, then serving it up for homeless people while forcing them to listen to your one-liners about Billy Preston.

Reilly's blatant self-copying was a surprise considering that he'd told Neil Best that his "No. 1 goal in writing is to never write a sentence you've already read" and that he'd spent "30 years writing sentences that I hope jump off the page and squirt apple juice in your ear." (All emphasis mine.) That brings to mind the introduction to the 2002 edition of Best American Sports Writing: "Never Write a Sentence You've Already Read. That was said by Oscar Wilde, but it's still the best way to make words jump off the page and squirt grapefruit juice in the reader's face." Also, from a recent ESPN chat: "[I]n any kind of writing, you have to make the words jump off the page and squirt orange juice in the reader's face. [T]o do that you have to write word-picture sentences. [M]y #1 rule is something oscar wilde once said: ‘Never write a sentence you've already read.' "

I guess that doesn't count as repeating yourself, since those are different kinds of juice.

And about Reilly's alleged feud with Bill Simmons. Both writers and ESPN brass have all denied such a rift exists. "Where do they get this stuff?" Reilly asked Neil Best. "I don't know how that whole thing started."

Ooh, I can help with that! An excerpt from Bryan Curtis' column in the March 2, 2008 issue of Play Magazine:

[W]here some of us gaze at the Web and see a delightfully shaggy form of journalism, Reilly sees too many sloppy, overly indulgent meditations. "A lot of these guys could use a Lincoln Continental, if not a Greyhound bus, full of editors," he told me. (When I asked about popular ESPN.com columnist Bill Simmons — soon to be his teammate — Reilly pretended that the phone had gone dead.)

I assume that if the phone hadn't gone dead, Reilly would have told the Sports Guy to stick it in his cavity.

Hope you enjoy the rest of the day. Don't forget to brush. You can e-mail me at sportsnut@slate.com.