Book Review of “Tiger, meet my sister…” — (3/52)
A comical, thought-provoking, and exciting collection of Rick Reilly’s best work
DISCLAIMER: This blog post is going to be a first of its kind for me. Throughtout this post, it’s going to seem like I’m just linking you to even more written works to read. But, trust me. You won’t ever regret it if you click through on any of the links below. Try it and see. It may just change your life.
Well, on to the blog post!
If I had to construct my very own Mount Rushmore of great sportswriters, it would have these four people: Rick Reilly, Bill Simmons, Michael Wilbon, and David Hirshey. (Again, I should emphasize that this is a personal list of mine and I haven’t read enough works of other great sportswriters like Bob Ryan and Roland Lazenby to merit their inclusion on this fictional Mt. Rushmore.)
Michael Wilbon has the panache and deep understanding in many of his written works that I appreciate. He has a tremendous history as a sportswriter as well, having covered the Chicago Bulls in Michael Jordan’s time period. But, for the most part, his work is very serious in tone and so if you want to die of laughter, your best bet is to read the works of David Hirshey.
I’ve been reading Hirshey’s soccer columns on ESPN ever since I started following soccer more closely (around the 2010 World Cup in South Africa). Hirshey has no qualms about his allegiance to Arsenal F.C. and his readers have come to expect continuous digs towards Arsenal’s rivals, the Tottenham Hotspur and Chelsea F.C. Pretty much every column I read of Hirshey’s involves a well-crafted inside joke that only soccer afficionados will find funny. Seriously, if I was only half as funny as this man in my writings…
This brings us to another funny man: Bill Simmons. Aside from being funny, he is one of the most insightful and knowledgeable people I know that cover the NBA these days. While Wilbon provides the classic journalist type of NBA writing, Simmons provides the fan’s perspective on matters, which can be just as important (and more relatable). Simmons’ tome, The Book of Basketball, is a must-read if you are a NBA fan!
Finally, we arrive at the last “Mount Rushmore-ian” in Rick Reilly. I feel that Rick Reilly encompasses the perfect amalgamation of Wilbon, Hirshey, and Simmons. The man was put on this planet to write and be funny at the same time. Not convinced? Reilly has garnered the National Sportswriter of the Year award a whopping 11 (ELEVEN!) times throughout his illustrious career, and the humor in his pieces are a driving component of what draws audiences to his work.
The Best of the Best
Reilly’s latest book, “Tiger, meet my sister…” [affiliate link], is an anthology of his best pieces during his time at ESPN (2008 to 2014). Basically, it’s 75+ of his ESPN columns that deserve a read (or a re-read) according to Rick Reilly. Personally, I had only read about 5 to 6 of the pieces he chose for the book, so the book was well-worth my time since I hadn’t read most of the works he included in the book.
Reilly starts off the book with a piece titled, “It’s All About the Lies,” which exposes the rejection and anger he felt when he heard his good-friend Lance Armstrong admit to his use of steroids. This is probably one of the more personal pieces of the book and it shows what takes place when one is at the receiving end of a friend who is an incessant liar and con man. Not a good feeling.
But in classic Rick Reilly fashion, we are next exposed to one of Reilly’s most humorous works, which is titled “The Confounding World of Athlete Tattoos.” Written in November 2009, the piece conveys an anecdote involving Golden State Warrior Stephen Jackson and his tattoos.
How else do you explain Golden State Warrior Stephen Jackson’s hands? Not the hands at the end of his arms. The tattooed hands on his chest and stomach, holding a handgun, praying. I am not kidding — two hands praying with a gun between them. Praise the Lord and pass the ammunition.
What is the message Jackson’s stomach trying to leave us? “God, please help me knock over this Kwik Stop?” “This is the Glock the Lord hath made?” Neither. Jackson says it represents him praying that he doesn’t need to use a gun again.
Damn, Stephen. Where’s your commute, Fallujah?
- Reilly, Page 15
Moving from funny to serious, Reilly talks about the great Tiger Woods in a piece titled, “Woods Needs to Clean Up His Act.” Specifically, Reilly addresses Tiger Woods’ frequent temper tantrums while on and off the golf course and how they can have a detrimental effect both on him and others around him, like kids. Reilly writes, “This isn’t new. Woods has been this way for years: swearing like a Hooters bouncer, trying to bury the bottom of his driver into the tee box, flipping his club end over end the second he realizes his shot is way off line” (Reilly, 20).
I remember Tiger’s dad, Earl, telling a story. One day, when Tiger was just a kid, he was throwing his clubs around in a fuming fit when his dad said something like “Tiger, golf is supposed to be fun.” And Tiger said, “Daddy, I want to win. That’s how I have fun.”
Well, it’s not fun to watch.
- Reilly, Page 21
Reilly encourages readers in his postscript to this piece to read Hank Haney’s “The Big Miss,” which I’ve reviewed in a blog post on Medium. Tiger’s narcissistic and hurtful behavior towards others is something that I, like Rick Reilly, found deplorable. Reilly leaves us with the following on Tiger Woods: “Admire the game, not the man.”
Works that left you astounded about humanity’s power to do goodwill
Amidst all of the great writing is the core essence of what makes Rick Reilly’s work resonate with all those who come in contact with it — heart. Many of Reilly’s works focus around little people that do big things. For instance, in a piece called “Cheering for the Other Side,” we are exposed to the goodwill of high school football fans in Grapevine, Texas. The two schools, Grapevine Faith and Gainesville State School, were playing one another at Grapevine Faith’s home stadium. However, when the away team (Gainesville State) came out to take the field, “the Faith fans made a forty-yard spirit line for them to run through” (Reilly, 57). The fans had even made banners for the away team that said “Go Tornadoes!”
Why would the fans of the home team so willingly (and openly) support the away team?
Because Gainesville State’s players are members of a maximum-security correctional facility seventy-five miles north of Dallas. The school plays every single game on the road. According to Reilly’s research, “Gainesville has a lot of kids with convictions for drugs, assault and robbery — many whose families had disowned them” (Reilly, 58).
So, when the Faith fans decided to make the Gainesville State players their “home” team, the message was clear: “[The Gainesville State players] are just as valuable as any other person on planet Earth” (Reilly, 58).
After the game, both teams gathered in the middle of the field to pray, and that’s when Isaiah [a Gainesville State player] surprised everybody by asking to lead. “We had no idea what the kid was going to say,” remembers Coach Hogan [head coach of Grapevine Faith]. But Isaiah said this: “Lord, I don’t know how this happened, so I don’t know how to say thank you, but I never would’ve known there was so many people in the world that cared about us.”
- Reilly, Page 59
The Lessons I Learned from Rick Reilly
Clearly, I was only able to touch on only a small portion of Rick Reilly’s greatest works, but I hope the works you got the chance to read about in this blog post compel you to go out and read more of his works.
But, for me personally, I am on a constant quest to improve my writing style. In order to do that, I’ll need to practice a ton while picking up a few pointers from some of the very best, like Rick Reilly. I am continually amazed at how well Reilly can interweave humor with raw emotion without ever losing the reader’s focus.
Additionally, if you read enough of Reilly’s works, you’ll note that he truly does make use of every single word available to him. I believe most of his pieces are 800 to 1,000 words and yet he packs so much information, anecdotes, and life into his diction. He truly does make every single word count. That’s definitely something I can improve on as I grow and develop as a writer.
Finally, Rick Reilly is perhaps one of the best I’ve ever seen at ending a written work. The man ends his pieces with an everlasting tidbit of advice, a key insight, or a rhetorical question like nobody I’ve ever seen. It takes great planning and intellect to find the perfect way to end each written piece and Reilly’s endings always hit the right chords.
So, here’s to one of the best: Rick Reilly.
Enjoy your retirement — you’ve earned it.
Reilly, Rick. Tiger, Meet My Sister… …and Other Things I Probably Shouldn’t Have Said. N.p.: n.p., n.d. Print.
This is the third post (out of 52 in total eventually) that is a part of my 2015 Book Reading Challenge.