SBD/Issue 180/Sports Media

SI's Rick Reilly Claims ESPN Has Stolen Story Ideas From Him

Reilly Feels ESPN Ripped
Off Some Of His Columns
SI columnist Rick Reilly is featured in a Q&A with GELF MAGAZINE’s Carl Bialik, who says, "You mention in the book ['Hate Mail From Cheerleaders'] that ESPN has ripped off some of your column ideas."  Reilly: “I feel like I’ve flat-out handed them five or six Emmys.  They take columns I’ve discovered and written – about people nobody’s heard of – and do them as though they found the guy.”  In response, an ESPN spokesperson said, “We learn of story concepts from a wide range of sources and outlets.”  Reilly added, “When people have something happen in their lives or hear of something or witness something amazing, they go, ‘That’s a Rick Reilly story.’ ... Now I’d say one-fourth of my column ideas come from readers.”  Reilly said SI has “backed me on my opinions, even if they [hurt] business.” In a recent issue, Reilly’s column linked the genocide in Darfur to the ’08 Beijing Olympics, and he said, “They allowed me to write it even though it has the potential to damage SI China, a project we have in cooperation with the Chinese government” (, 6/2).

An exchange from Dan Patrick’s ESPN Radio show last week illustrates the friendly tone of Reilly’s objection to ESPN taking ideas from his columns.

Reilly: “How about just once showing your little fuzzy lens shot of my column with, ‘as first heart-wrenchingly portrayed in Rick ...’ You know, nothing. I get no love from you guys.”

Patrick: “Do you consider it plagiarism?”

Reilly: “No. Hell no.”

Patrick: “Well, if they’re taking from your column, they’re taking your idea. What constitutes…“

Reilly: “If they were taking lines. Now, one time ABC 'Evening News' actually took three lines. … That’s not what ESPN does. I’m just saying, how about a little love?”

Patrick: “Do you ever give me credit in your column for ideas that I’ve given you?”

Reilly: “I’m trying to think of one idea that you gave me that worked. You’ve given me a lot of ideas, but …”

Patrick: “How about the column, ‘Things that you will never see,’ and you wrote an entire column on that?”

Reilly: “Oh yeah, sorry. That was pretty good. Thank you.”

Patrick: “OK, so you stole that.”

Reilly: “No. I changed it to ‘Sentences that have never been uttered. …’”

Patrick: “But see, once again, you stole from me, and I got no credit.”

Reilly: “…You’re right. You did the leg work” (“The Dan Patrick Show,” ESPN Radio, 6/7). 

ANOTHER BEEF: The CHARLOTTE OBSERVER’s David Poole writes in his blog that while he was on ESPN2’s “NASCAR Now” yesterday to discuss Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s deal with Hendrick Motorsports, ESPN’s Erik Kuselias said on-air ESPN's Marty Smith "broke this story.”  Poole: “I like Marty Smith a lot.  He’s good.  But ESPN didn’t even break wind on that story Tuesday.  Smith, Jenna Fryer of the [AP] and I all three posted stories saying about the same thing at about the same time.  It was about 2pm or so” (, 6/13).

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