In my nearly 50 years as a subscriber and reader of Sports Illustrated nothing (not even the swimsuit issue) got my attention faster than Rick Reilly’s column that graced the back page for more than a decade.

“The Life of Reilly” was a must first-read and was simply as good as it gets when it comes to sports journalism.

I thought it would be timely to share some of what Reilly wrote in a column 20 years ago, a copy of which I have saved. Of course it’s a bit dated but the message still resonates.

The title is “Speaking of Class to the Class of ’98.

Thank you, graduates.  Please be seated.  It’s an honor to address the college athletes who are going to the pros this year. If I may, I’d like to offer just a few pieces of advice. 

Every now and again turn off Nintendo, shut off Spectravision and open a book.  We already have enough jocks who think the Brothers Karamazov are the WWF tag-team champs. If you ever find yourself saying, “They offered me $81 million?  That’s an insult!” find a tire iron, go into a quiet room and hit yourself very hard on the shin.  

Marry someone who has never heard of you.

Now that you’ve made it, practice twice as long as you did in college.  The hardest worker in the NBA is Michael Jordan.  What does that tell you? 

If you write a book, read it before it comes out.  Be careful with your money.  Shock the world: Apologize when your screw up.   Never, ever rip a teammate.   

Stop thumping your chest.  The line blocked, the quarterback threw you a perfect spiral while getting his head knocked off, and the good receiver drew double coverage.  Get over yourself.

See the woman up there in section 595, row WW, seat 29?  She makes $26,000 a year, paid $22 a ticket for her family and just plunked down $17 for three Cokes and a warm beer.  Treat her nice.  Without you, you’re a 320-pound bouncer with half a P.E. degree. 

Go easy on the tattoos.  By the time you’re 60, that hula girl on your biceps is going to look like Don Knotts. 

This just in: You can do community service without being sentenced.  Try it. 

This is the career you picked.  If you can’t handle public scrutiny or deal with strangers graciously, become a taxidermist. 

For the next 10 years or so, you’ll travel the world first class, laugh yourself sore on the team bus and get paid half of Zurich, so let’s not hear a lot of whining OK? So what if your Oakley deal fell through.  We’ll start a telethon.

One last thing.  Remember when you were a kid?  All you dreamed of was playing centerfield for the Yankees.  Soon, you’ll be there.  Don’t forget the tingle.

20 years later the names and numbers might be different but wow. Not much has changed.



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