What’s Rick Reilly Really Saying About Bowlen?

We don’t know everything about what Rick Reilly brings to the ESPN table, just that the man is overpaid. His $4 million salary could pay for, let’s say, 20 very good writers at $200,000 a pop, and it’s safe to say that 20 good writers would be able to cover far more for the WWL than Reilly’s oft-cliched columns. But whatever, ESPN knows more about running a sports media empire than we do.

Pat Bowlen

But we digress. Reilly, for his faults, has tons of sources - part of being part of the national media for that long, we suppose - and we assume he’s as well-connected as anybody else on the ESPN Campus. But you’d think someone who’s swimming in Best Sportswriter awards would have a little more journalistic tact than what he just pulled on Denver Owner Pat Bowlen.

In his “Too Short For A Column” feature, Reilly basically stepped right up to the line of accusing Bowlen of losing his mind:

Bowlen, 65, admitted recently that he has “short-term memory loss.” There are whole parts of the Broncos’ Super Bowl seasons he says he can’t recall.

Bowlen still insists Jay Cutler never called him back during McJay Gate this winter, which left him “no choice” but to trade a dead-lock Pro Bowl 26-year-old quarterback for Kyle Orton and draft choices.

But I’ve now got it from three different sources — who choose to remain unidentified — that Cutler did call Bowlen back.

“Jay called him twice,” said one source. “It’s unbelievable it came to this.”

The rest of the column continues along that line, with plenty of open-ended questions piling on Bowlen. The cumulative effect of insinuation is sufficiently unsubtle that a “rhymes with ’schementia’” reference wouldn’t seem out of place.

But why do this? What does it accomplish, especially tucked away in some throwaway post like that? We don’t think Reilly was making anything up, mind you; nobody who’s been around that long would make that stupid a mistake.

But it does seem like he’s letting his sources write the story, which is dangerous when it comes to heavy charges like mental debilitation. Certainly, what’s being described here is far beyond the usual slowing-down that comes with age. That Reilly doesn’t come right out and say “Alzheimer’s” is less a testament to journalistic restraint and more to his desire to take part in a whisper campaign.

And even if every word of it’s true, it doesn’t seem very appropriate for someone of Reilly’s stature to address the situation like this.