Though Rick Reilly’s departure for ESPN presumably leaves a back of the book void at Sports Illustrated, Dan Shanoff boldly proposes Reilly’s replacement be “THE leading voice of the sports fan today.” And while I wouldn’t have thought Rog was available, it turns out Shanoff is referring to none than Deadspin’s Will Leitch.
If you’re under 30, if you knew who Reilly was at all (and you probably don’t know or, more likely, don’t care), you know Reilly as the author of those columns that — if they didn’t have Reilly’s byline — you’d wonder why editors at SI were putting warmed-over Page 2 column ideas on their back page. (The nadir: Reilly’s tortured “live-blog” of the NFL Draft, which nearly offset his campaign to raise money for malaria nets, which was inspired.)
On the other hand, Will Leitch (above) couldn’t be more relevant. He launched and writes the most influential proposition in sports, a blog that not only is the center of gravity for the entire sports blogosphere, but drives a healthy portion of sports newspaper, radio and TV conversation, too.
That’s precisely the kind of impact that a brand like SI needs. It needs relevancy, not with its established and aging base of magazine readers who might enjoy Reilly, but with its unestablished and young base of cross-platform consumers who do enjoy Leitch.
Yet for all of Leitch’s talents as a blogger, he’s an even better essayist, as anyone who has read his column series on either the NCAA Tournament or the MLB playoffs knows.
What makes Leitch so unique for that role is that, for all of the “Underground” populism, he is a purist at heart. He cares about sports in a way that old school guys like Reilly — who long ago drifted into cynicism cloaked under some kind of stab at “humor” — simply can’t grasp. It’s why Reilly can’t connect with younger consumers anymore. Leitch combines a reverence for what made SI great with a unique empathy for today’s sports fans and a unique understanding of today’s sports landscape. Consequently, he can uniquely bridge the gap between SI’s older consumers and its younger ones, its bygone golden era and its future.
Though I find it somewhat curious that one of Leitch’s pals is dying to see Will taken out of circulation save for one page a week, it could be tremendous fun to see who Gawker Media might appoint to take over Deadspin. Jay Mohr hasn’t really found a project that fit his unique skill-set since “Action”. This wouldn’t be it, either, but I’d love to see it happen.