Rick Reilly Go Fish: Mail Bag

Mailbag: Kaepernick, NFL MVP and Armstrong

February, 12, 2013

I'm grateful to all of you who wrote emails to me in reaction to my columns lately. Yes, many of them were hateful and venomous and involved me acquiring nose cancer, but a full 17 percent of you spelled every word correctly, up 3 percent from the last mailbag. (By the way, mega-tool is not spelled with a “u”.)

We begin with my Colin Kaepernick column, which was about as popular with most readers as gout.

In this one, I told the story of how Kaepernick, the San Francisco 49ers star quarterback, was born to a white mother from a black father and then given by that mother to be raised by a white couple, Rick and Teresa Kaepnerick.

The birth mother, Heidi Russo, of Denver, has tried to contact Kaepernick for more than four years, but he has declined all in-person and phone contact with her. This is totally his choice, of course. I just pointed out that my adopted daughter's experience meeting her birth mother has been nothing but healing for both parties. Same goes for my wife, Cynthia, who was adopted off the Blackfeet Indian reservation of upper Montana, and has now become friends with both her birth parents.

The reaction was furious. Almost 90 percent of those who wrote said it was absolutely none of my business. Said I was putting my nose where it doesn't belong. Said I was bullying the kid. I wasn't. I was just relating my life experiences with adoption.

But we start with an email from the birth mother herself:

    (Sigh) Thank you for writing this story. Had I known your angle I would have been happy to talk with you ... it's close to both of our hearts. The criticism (I've received) has been brutal. Some people will never understand, and it's OK. I'm so very proud of Colin and my story will be told in the positive, inspiring, honest manner I want it told. I applaud you and your family. Adoption is a true blessing and Colin has had the life I wanted for him and more! God Bless, Rick!
    -- Heidi Russo

    I am adopted and have no interest in meeting my birth parents. If Colin Kaepernick doesn't want to meet his birth mother, that's his business and you should leave him alone. That's his choice. I'm happy that it worked out for your daughter, but he is not her. Whatever his feelings are, they are none of your concern. If the birth mother wanted to be a part of his life, she shouldn't have given him up. Period, end of story.
    -- Dave (Huntington, W.V.)

    I am adopted as well, and have also chosen not to see my birth parents. Just because seeing your daughter had it work out for her doesn't mean it's the right move for everyone. I think you overstepped your boundaries publicly outing Colin Kaepernick. His decisions with his family is the epitome of an athlete's private life, and you stepped into it for no good reason. You owe that young man an apology.
    -- Rick, (Las Vegas)


How can I “out” a half-black player who greets his white parents after every game with a hug and kiss? It’s pretty much “out” that he’s adopted, don’t you think?

    I too am adopted and at 58 years old have never met my biological parents. I never pushed too hard -- my adopted parents were the best, period. I did not want to send them any signal other than that they were meant to be my family.
    -- Dan Breton (St. Simons Island, Ga.)

    Don't understand why you had to write about his decision. A very poor choice on your part.
    -- John Shaw (Madison, Ala.)


Didn’t have to write about his decision, I wanted to. I’ve written often about adoption, and because of my daughter and my wife, we hear stories constantly about reunions with birth parents and how wonderful it is for all parties. I don’t think I’ve ever heard one case when it went south. Of course this is Colin’s choice, 100 percent, and I’d never criticize him for not meeting with her. I’m just saying that so many young people wrongly think it’s a slap in the face of their real parents to even meet with birth parents. It almost never is. The Kaepernicks are wide open for their son to meet with Heidi Russo. They’ve met with her recently themselves.

    Your message is a powerful testament to the gratitude that adoptive parents have for a birth parent's supreme act of love. I hope Colin Kaepernick reads this article. You know firsthand the richness and joy that reaching out can bring. Your daughter Rae is a beautiful, loving young woman.
    -- Judie Martinez (Napoleonville, La.)


Got boatloads of feedback on my admission that Lance Armstrong had been lying to me for 14 years and I'd been a fool to pass that lie along to my readers. My boiling point came when he sent me a two-word apology: "I'm sorry." I suggested it was me who was the sorriest.

Readers did not let me off the hook for being so gullible.

    Lance lied and you bought it. Trust should always be given until the person proves they are not worthy. And he's not worthy. But in all fairness, you need a refresher course in Journalism 101. … "If your mother says she loves you, check it out." …
    -- Sean Curry (New York, N.Y.)

    You sum up what is wrong with most sports media today, namely that they are too close to their subjects. If Lance had told you in one of your long off-the-record chats that he was cheating, what would you have done?
    -- Mike

I would've tried like hell to prove it another way, through another avenue. I’d have begged him to go on the record with it. And in the meantime, I’d have stopped backing him in the columns, radio, TV, tweets, etc.

    Stop your crying!! The guy came out and admitted to [he's] doping. Give the guy a break! This is step one to the process so get off his back and forgive him. He's also going to have to face the court system. He didn't have to apologize but he did. Accept his apology and forgive him and get over your selfishness.
    -- Jeremy Pickens (Auburn, Ala.)


If you say so. By the way, how are you feeling about Harvey Updyke Jr., the Alabama fan who poisoned Auburn’s on-campus trees? Did you accept his apology?

    … Do you really need to report "off the record" comments just because Armstrong lied? Couldn't you hold yourself to a higher standard instead of, now, having been dragged down to his level. I thought "off the record" was the holy grail of journalists. … Never, never, ever forsake it. Now, you've jeopardized future off the record discussions (but probably not) because you feel betrayed. I believe you're bigger than this and won't make such mistakes again.
    -- Tyler Seboe (Milwaukee, Wis.)


Just for the record, I’ve never used a single off-the-record quote Armstrong gave me. Not sure whose column you read. I said he’d told me, both on and off the record, that he never did it. He was consistent all the way. He consistently lied to my face.

    I am a high school coach and athletic director. If one good thing can come of the demise of Lance Armstrong it's that I have been following these events with players at my school. Maybe the young people will learn from all this. Sorry he played you.
    -- Mike Walker (Tennessee)

    I have a question. Should I take off my Livestrong bracelet? I have been wearing it for 8 years. I was inspired by what Lance was doing with the foundation and all the help Livestrong gave to people suffering with cancer. I followed his accomplishments on the tour and was amazed each and every year. I mean he beat cancer and was winning. Now I feel betrayed. I am conflicted. Wearing the bracelet may seem that I am supporting Lance, but the reality is I am supporting the fight against cancer.
    -- R.J. Wilkins (Baltimore, Md.)


Keep it on. The Livestrong bracelet means more than Lance Armstrong now. Most people I know who wear one wear it for their mother, their brother, their uncle who battled cancer. That bracelet and the foundation it represents were the best -- and most honest -- things that Lance Armstrong ever did.

    There once was a cyclist named Lance

    Who rode all doped up through France

    After a media beating

    He admitted his cheating

    And Asked Oprah for "Just One More Chance"
    -- Jimmy Stoltz (Austin, TX)


First Mailbag limerick I’ve ever received. Bravo


Speaking of things Irish, Notre Dame football fans were leprechaun-gleeful about the two-day crow-eating trip I took to South Bend to polish helmets after admitting I was wrong about them in a previous column. But they're not always in the right. Consider the column I wrote about Notre Dame's famous sign: "Play Like a Champion Today."

    Funny how Lou Holtz thinks the sign "belongs" to Notre Dame. The phrase "Play Like A Champion Today" was at Oklahoma when Bud Wilkinson coached there, because he put it there. About 30 years or so before Lou Holtz co-opted.
    -- J.W. Weeks (Newberg, Ore.)


This is half-true. To be clear, Holtz never claimed invention of the phrase. He only remembers seeing it in an old college football photo book and admiring it. The first person to use that exact phrase on a sign is unknown. But Wilkinson did use it in the late 1940s at Oklahoma. And though Wilkinson's son, Jay, says he's sure his dad didn't come up with the phrase, it certainly didn't start in an athletic tunnel at Notre Dame.

    Just a brief comment to you on the article you did on my sister-in-law, Laurie Wenger. Thank you for a wonderful job on the article. It has made me so much more proud of her and the things she has accomplished in life. Laurie not only has MS she had also been diagnosed with a brain tumor and three years ago had it removed. You can see why she is an inspiration to us all here at home.
    -- Susan Schmuhl (South Bend, Ind.)


A lot of NFL fans had their boxers in a bunch over my decree that Peyton Manning should've been the MVP, not Adrian Peterson.

    RICK REILLY: I hate campaigning for MVP! Now here's a quote from John Elway clearly campaigning for MVP for Manning!
    -- Shaun (Minneapolis)

Sorry, I missed the news about John Elway inhabiting the body of Peyton Manning. Thought they were two different people. Is this Heaven Can Wait, Part II?

    For the last month I've been hearing how Adrian Peterson was a one-man gang who dragged the Vikings to the playoffs on his back, but that was proven to be untrue in the wild-card beat-down versus the Packers. Without [Christian] Ponder, the Vikings couldn't do anything offensively. During the Vikings' last two regular-season wins, Ponder played very effectively and that's why they won. Even with a great running back, the quarterback is still the most important position on the field because he runs the offense. If he doesn't play well, the team doesn't win, no matter what the running back does. After their first six games, the Vikings were 4-2 despite Peterson having only a decent season to that point. They can win without their running back playing great, but they can't win without their quarterback playing well. The MVP (should have gone) to Manning, who runs the Broncos offense perfectly and led them to the No. 1 seed.
    -- Peter Anderson (Boston)

    The Broncos advanced to the second round of the playoffs WITHOUT Manning last season.
    -- Paul Ladd (Chicago)


Speaking of MVPs, a lot of you agreed with me that Jacoby Jones of the Ravens should have been the MVP of the Super Bowl on the back of his two long touchdowns, one on an under-thrown ball by Flacco, the other on a back-breaking 108-yard kickoff return. I realize this flies in the face of my QB-heavy MVP philosophy, but Jones is the exception.

    Good to know somebody else thinks Jacoby Jones should have been MVP. His TD reception, all his. He got open, ball was under thrown, kept his concentration and made the catch and finally hustled to the end zone, all his. The kick return, not only a great run and blocking, but a great decision. I am sure the Niners were caught off guard when he started out of the deep end zone.
    -- Jorge (Mexico)


Well, uh, actually, a lot of readers pointed out that it wasn’t all Jones on that return

    … It was the two Ravens holding the hell out Bruce Miller at the 26-yard line and hanging on until Jones had gone from the 18 to the 50. Watch the replay and be absolutely amazed that it wasn't called by the refs or noticed by any sports pundits.
    -- DRJ (San Jose, Calif.)


Hold the phone. That wasn’t holding up. That was kidnapping. They might as well have tied Miller up and put him in their trunk.

But it’s still not as bad as what happened at the Arizona-Pittsburgh Super Bowl in 2009. James Harrison was just about to be tackled by Larry Fitzgerald on his end-of-the-first-half interception TD return when Fitzgerald’s own knucklehead teammate, Antrel Rolle, comes off the bench and onto the field and accidentally blocks his own man from making the stop! It happens at about Arizona’s 30-yard line. Harrison ended up scoring a touchdown and the Steelers won by four points, 27-23. I know I keep bringing this up, but nobody ever mentions it!

Speaking of mistakes, many of you thought I made one when I dared to write a column about the mass murders in Newtown, Conn., decrying the nation's obsession with assault weapons and high-capacity magazines, when they're not needed by most sportsman and many NRA members. This fired up many of you to fire back (verbally, that is).

    I've read my last of your writings as of this morning. I have always enjoyed your work, both in print and in video. However today you used your platform with ESPN to spew leftist, anti-gun chatter in an arena not designed for such debate. You are entitled to your opinion and I realize that your opinions are your bread-and-butter, but this is not the place for such rhetoric. You conveniently found the most anti-gun, pro-gun people you could find to provide quotes for this article. As a longtime gun owner and advocate, it makes me sick to hear fellow gun owners cower from their Second Amendment rights. If your next book tanks, will you blame the computer you wrote it on?
    -- Jesse (SE Ohio)


Let me get this straight. I’m going to lose a fan who defends a gun-crazed culture that continues to kill thousands of our kids every year? I’m crestfallen.

    I am a military member that has been to the Middle East eight times, including Afghanistan and am a lifelong hunter. Change is needed and the changes that need to be changed will not affect my rights as an American or an avid outdoorsman. You have my support, sir.
    -- Jeff Hargis (Davis Monthan AFB, Ariz.)

    Love your columns. Hate your politics. The Sandy Hook shooting was a monstrous act by a deranged kid. The problems of this country are so much deeper than assault weapons. These firearms have been around for decades. The gun doesn't cause the crime. It is society's ills that lead to these shootings. Easy to blame guns, tough to fix the real problems. Sad.
    -- Danny King (Harlingen, Texas)

    Good piece. I can't argue with the desire to tighten gun laws in the wake of Newtown, but you're only addressing the symptom, not the cause, of these massacres. Guns don't pull their own triggers. How do you legislate against a popular culture that has become desensitized to violence? How do you legislate insanity out of existence?
    -- Bruce Baskin (Chehalis, Wash.)


There’s no way to legislate insanity out of existence. That’s my point. Deranged people will always be among us. The problem is, when they finally burst, they have free and easy access to weapons that are designed purely to hunt humans.


Lastly, here is your Cynic of The Century -- a Mr. Tony Cote, of Ottawa.

Mr. Cote had a bone to pick with my column about Memphis Redbirds (Triple-A) shortstop Vance Albitz and his goal to send 1,000 gloves and baseballs to American troops in Afghanistan. It's Albitz's way to inject a little home into the dismal and lonely life, a life that's led to a skyrocketing suicide rate for soldiers and vets.


    I would never put down the thought and caring that goes into things like sending ball gloves to soldiers in war theaters, but I kind of wonder why it is necessary. Shouldn't that sort of thing be done by the Army, Marines, etc.? And it seems to me that the soldiers involved are being paid a pretty decent salary so why not buy their own gloves and balls? There are millions of underprivileged kids in the western world that could sure use some of that largesse. It seems the money, time and effort would be better spent helping the truly needy.
    -- Tony Cote (Ottawa, Canada)


I totally agree. American soldiers overseas should stop squandering their fat-cat salaries ($18,194 per year for an Army private) on things like extra protective equipment and care for their wives and kids back home. They need to go to the local Dick's Sporting Goods in Kabul and buy their own. Thank you and please let me know if they ever find your heart.

Not everybody agrees with Mr. Cote, however.

    I am a captain in the Army, and am currently deployed. I had the pleasure of tossing the ball around with a lieutenant and sergeant last week. Nothing beats that feeling, even halfway across the globe. Albitz's donations have undoubtedly gone a long way to raise the morale of soldiers.
    -- David Struwe

    I just returned from Afghanistan this January and our Marines received gloves from Vance and his program. The first thing we did was warm up the arm and show off our fastballs. You miss the little things like that when deployed. Please thanks Mr. Albitz for being the positive American he is and let him know he has a group of Marines that are rooting for him.
    -- Nicholas Regopoulos (San Diego)

    Vance Albitz is already a big leaguer whether he spends a day in The Show.
    -- Bruce Baskin (Chehalis)


By the way, Albitz was set to leave for the St. Louis Cardinals’ spring training on Feb. 17. But thanks to readers like you, he’s got more than enough money, (well more than $30,000) and gloves to reach his goal of 1,000 shipped. In fact, he’s got so many gloves, his dad’s garage overflowed and he had to move his entire operation to his old high school in Torrance, Calif. There, with the help of “20 or 30” of his friends, he was on track to make it.

(There was no truth, however, to the rumor that he was going to send the extras to the Colorado Rockies, the worst fielding team in baseball last season.)

Mailbag: Nothing but nice

June, 22, 2012
Lately, readers have accused me of publishing only negative emails and tweets (@ReillyRick) in order to stir up controversy and get attention. I'm also getting ripped for being falsely modest.

Therefore, this mailbag will feature only people who think I'm wonderful and talented and smell of lavender.

We begin:


Do us all a favor: If Tiger starts birdie-birdie at the British Open, save the "Tiger is back" montage clip until he actually makes it through the weekend with a number less than 75. Keep up the good work.

Kevin (Columbus, Ohio)

Very kind of you. I will.

How are your ankles? Did you break either one of them jumping off the Tiger Woods bandwagon? "There's no way Tiger can lose this tournament." Nice call.

Stacy Applegate (N.C.)

Appreciate you noticing. Thanks.

Do you feel the slightest bit stupid after your piece on Tiger Saturday? HE IS NOT BACK. HE IS NOT WINNING OPEN. HE IS FALLING APART. This is not the first. You are wrong a lot.

FH Race, (Westerly, R.I.)

Thanks for noticing how often I'm right. I appreciate it.


In your article on LeBron, you pick all the facts from one side of the argument and completely ignore the facts from the other.

Brad Klabik (Cleveland, Ohio)

I was hoping you'd notice that. It's taken 35 years to learn that skill. Articles that present both sides of an argument are called news stories. Articles that present only the writer's side are called opinion columns. This is what you read.

I really hope you didn't get paid more than $20 for that last article.

Pat (address withheld)

My tax strategies to avoid climbing into higher tax brackets are between me and my accountant. Thanks for worrying about me, though!

I would have loved to hear an audio narration of the "LeBron being LeBron" article as only you can do. Maybe ESPN should start audio narration of some articles? Now that would be cool!

Ray Williams (Alabaster, Ala.)

Each Tuesday and Friday night, I read my columns aloud at my home to any fan who wants to hear them. This is a free service. By sheer coincidence, these two nights happen to be my wife's Girls Night Out evenings. Come over!


Really? You like James and the Heat over Durant and the Thunder? This I PROMISE you....the Big 3 from OKC will outplay the 3 from Miami.

Jonathan Anderson (Austin, Texas)

Thank you. You made my Tiger prediction look very smart by comparison. I'm impressed, and I like your shoes.


In over 15 years of reading your articles, I think this is the first one that I just completely disagree with! Feel sorry for Phelps? Feel sorry for the millionaire who spent his life playing a sport? Come on Rick, you're better than this!

Paul (Baltimore, Md.)

Thanks for agreeing with every single column I've written for almost 15 years! That's a huge achievement by me!

He's only 26 and he wants to spend the rest of his life playing golf and traveling? How about using his celebrity to help legalize medicinal marijuana? Nobody ever put a gun to his head and said "swim."

Michael (San Francisco, Calif.)

I agree. More celebrities like Phelps need to use their status in life to promote controlled substances. And not to disagree with you, but Phelps has been in many races that began with starters' pistols, so, in a way, they DID put a gun to his head and say "swim." Thanks for being a fan!


Well done sir. A new low for biased, poorly written and opined reporting, known as ESPN.

Brendan Westfall (Richmond, Va.)

You're welcome.

You are a superlative writer. In such a concise manner, you captured the essence of this awkward and tormented situation of Monster vs. children. I shall be a fan of yours for life. No one could have done it better.

--Meg Kimmel (Donalds, S.C.)


I'm as disgusted with Sandusky as anyone (but) I'm disappointed with your conclusion. Essentially you hope Sandusky is raped in prison. Really? Don't be so flip. Think about what you're writing. Good column, horrific conclusion.

Wes Lukowsky (Geneva, Ill.)

Glad you enjoyed the column!


Why in the hell did (the girl) accuse Brian Banks of raping her? It sounded to me they were friends, going on a date. Did she ever say why she came to her actions?

Taco Jans (Netherlands)

a) You don't meet a lot of guys name Taco in Holland.

b) Banks says the woman merely told him, "I was immature back then." Sure, sure. But believing the man you sent away to prison will want to be your Facebook "friend?" Nine years later? Now that's mature.

I just finished your article on Brian Banks. If you're half as good at being a human as you are at capturing human stories, you're one of the best of us.

Clinton Carlson (Denton, Texas)

I am.


Great article Rick! ... I don't know why my golf scores are so bad. I have five or six good shots every hole.

Steve (Pontiac, Mich.)

Reading your golf term column I figured you might like these:

A Diego Maradona -- a very nasty 5-footer

A Salman Rushdie -- an impossible read

A Cuban -- needs one more revolution

A Kate Moss -- a bit thin

A Princess Grace -- should have taken a driver

A Princess Di -- shouldn't have taken a driver

A circus tent -- a BIG top

Bryan Reid (Vancouver, B.C.)


I miss you in the back of SI, dude. I grew up with that column every week. I'm sure you're told this all the time. Any chance you ever make a guest appearance?

Dave Fite (Glastonbury, Conn.)

I occasionally still write under an assumed name at Sports Illustrated: Gary Smith.

I was wondering, do you display your 11 National Sportswriter of the Year awards in the same kind of case Phil Jackson stores his 11 championship trophies? Show us a picture, Zen Master Jr.

Jim Beaver (Freehold, N.J.)

When you win the NSOTY award the first time, you get a gold ring with your name on it, engraved with the year you won. You also get a plaque with your name and year on it. Each time after the first, you only get the plaque. So I decided to box up the plaques and just keep engraving the years on the ring. No idea where they are now. I hope people are not upset at me for this. But this is not as bad as Red Smith, the late, great sportswriter, who used to burn plaques he won for firewood.

And no, I'm not going to post a picture of the ring. That would be bragging.