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Book Review: Hate Mail From Cheerleaders by Rick Reilly

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Rick Reilly is back with another collection of favorites from his long-running back-page column for Sports Illustrated. His Hate Mail From Cheerleaders pulls 100 columns from the past seven years, each pointing out the good guys and bad guys of sports, the inspirational and heartbreaking stories that rarely make the front sports page, the many ridiculous acts done in the name of sports, and — my favorite — the you-are-there columns in which Reilly takes his turn being part of the sport instead of just writing about it.

Reilly is known for both his humor as well as his ability to write sports stories that make you teary. There's plenty of both here. From parents who overanalyze the sporting talent of their pint-sized offspring to a faux Jack Nicholson diary entry to NFL scab referees to Ozzy Osbourne mangling "Take Me Out to the Ball Game" to goofing on Seattle and Canada, Reilly is a master at bringing out the small details that make humor work. Same thing on the tearjerking side — in describing a father who runs marathons and competes in triathlons with his disabled son in tow, Reilly writes:

Their best time? Two hours, 40 minutes in 1992 — only 35 minutes off the world record, which, in case you don't keep track of these things, happens to be held by a guy who was not pushing another man in a wheelchair at the time.

Reilly's Enemy #1 is Barry Bonds, and while he uses plenty of ammunition on him, he also calls out others who've tainted the sports world, from disgraced sluggers Sammy Sosa and Mark McGwire to athletes such as Jayson Williams and Ray Lewis, who manage to skate from the law, even when death was involved.

"Out of Touch with My Feminine Side" is one of the many entertaining first person accounts, this one relating his time coaching his daughter's seventh-grade basketball team:

During one game our best rebounder slammed the ball down and stomped off the court. "Everybody's yelling my name and I'm sick of it!" she said, and ran to the bathroom — followed by the mandatory nine other girls. I looked at the little guard in the blue rectangular glasses, who popped her Dum-Dum out of her mouth and said, "Don't worry, Coach. She's having her period."

Reilly follows up most of the columns collected here with commentary, whether it be the reaction a column provoked, a "where are they now?" update or a detail left out of the original column. Perhaps my favorite line from the book comes in follow-up to a piece in which Reilly reads through Derek Jeter's fan mail. After recounting that Jeter had dated a previous Miss Universe, Reilly mentions a letter to Jeter from a different Miss Universe. Jeter's reaction when Reilly brings up the letter? "Dude, I'm not going down that Miss Universe road again." As Reilly says, "Has that sentence ever been uttered before?"

Hate Mail From Cheerleaders has something for any fan, and it's one of those ready-made gifts if you know a sports nut. Even if that sports nut is you.

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