Rick Telander is the senior sports columnist for the Chicago Sun-Times. Hired in 1995 from Sports Illustrated, where he was a Senior Writer, Telander's presence at the newspaper was expected to counter the stable of sports columnists the rival Chicago Tribune had.
Telander is a native of Peoria, Illinois and attended Richwoods High School, where he was an All-Conference quarterback. He attended Northwestern University on a football scholarship. He played for coach Alex Agase as a cornerback (and punter junior year), making All-Big Ten Conference his senior season and two-time All-Big Ten Academic. His teammates included Mike Adamle, who is also now a member of the Chicago media.
After graduating from Northwestern, Telander was drafted by the Kansas City Chiefs in 1971 but was cut in training camp. He began his freelance writing career, and in 1974 he moved to New York, where he played basketball on city playgrounds and wrote the book Heaven Is a Playground, which later was made into a movie.
In the 1980s, he was a Senior Writer at Sports Illustrated and was quickly recognized as a rising star. As the college football beat writer in the mid-to-late-1980s, he reported on the scandals that plagued the University of Miami, University of Oklahoma, University of South Carolina, and Southern Methodist University. He also observed what he believed to be hypocrisy by the National Collegiate Athletic Association as the college athletes would help the NCAA and the member schools make money, yet couldn't share in the wealth. Telander's 1990 book The Hundred-Yard Lie addressed the problems in college football.
In 1985, Telander was invited to be a regular panelist on The Sportswriters on TV, a Chicago-based weekly show featuring the Chicago Tribune's Bill Jauss, the Daily Southtown's Bill Gleason and former boxing promoter Ben Bentley. Telander was 20 years younger than the three other panelists. The show, the first of its kind, was nationally syndicated and developed a cult following before concluding its run in 2000.
While with the Sun-Times, Telander continued writing for Sports Illustrated until 1998, when he signed a deal with ESPN. Telander would regularly contribute to ESPN, The Magazine and ESPN.com, appear on ESPN television shows like The Sports Reporters (which some critics viewed as a knockoff of the Sportswriters on TV), and host a program on ESPN radio. After the multi-year deal expired, Telander sporadically would contribute to Sports Illustrated, and host a radio show on WSCR-AM.
Telander has won or co-won the Illinois Sportswriter of the Year award as voted by the National Sportscasters and Sportswriters Association in eight of the last nine years. He has had his work collected in ``The Best American Sportswriting Anthology’’ six times, and he has won seven Peter Lisagor Awards for Sports Journalism. He is the author of eight books, one of which, Heaven Is a Playground, was named one of the ``Ten Best Sports Books of All Time’’ by Playboy magazine, and one of the ``100 Best Sports Books (No. 15)’’ by Sports Illustrated.
In 2008, Telander partnered with The Heckler (newspaper) and publisher Brad Zibung to host the "100th Annual Next Year Day Party’’ at the Cubby Bear Lounge across from Wrigley Field. Nearly 1,000 people attended, including famous Cubs fan Bill Murray, who sang "Hang On Sloopy" (see Del-Crustaceans). There have now been four "Next Year Day’’ parties, with no end in sight. At the 2011 party, held at Casey Moran’s on Clark Street, three live billy goats were brought into the bar to help with expunging one of the many curses that, legend has it, have kept the Chicago Cubs from winning a World Series in more than a century.
Telander’s band, the Del-Crustaceans, which was formed at Northwestern during his undergraduate years, has now been together for 40 years and still plays in Chicago clubs. In 2010, Telander was joined as a columnist at the Sun-Times by former Chicago Tribune sports columnist Rick Morrissey, and most recently by former baseball writer Joe Cowley.
2008 Hall of Fame ballot controversy
In January 2008, Telander caused controversy by refusing to submit a 2008 baseball Hall of Fame ballot, citing frustration with steroid issues troubling baseball. He mentioned in his January 9, 2008 Chicago Sun-Times column how he could not trust, and therefore, could not vote, for anyone on the ballot. Telander used Andre Dawson as an example of someone he does not believe ever used steroids, but could not be certain about. Of note is the fact that Telander voted for two known steroid users, José Canseco and Ken Caminiti, in the previous year's Hall of Fame ballot. He did this, as he wrote in his Sun-Times column, as a protest, arguing that the shame of steroid users and the "Steroid Era" should be preserved this way for all generations to witness.
The fury erupted very publicly after Chicago sports-talk radio show host Mike North took Telander to task while interviewing Andre Dawson on January 9, 2008. Telander eventually called Dawson personally, read his column to the former star, and the issue was laid to rest.
2013 "Dangerous Obstructions" article
In April 2013, Telander wrote an article in the Chicago Sun-Times highlighting dangerous NBA court-side obstructions. Apparently unaware that the Toronto Raptors' baseline signs were images painted on the floor of the court which appear as three-dimensional images on TV, he wrote "The Toronto Raptors have a long ‘Raptors’ sign on the floor, just a foot behind each baseline. The sign sticks up in the air about three feet, like a triangular billboard. Stupid. Stop it". The article was widely mocked.
- Chicago CBS local - Accessed 8th August 2013
- Deadspin.com - Rick Telander Doesn't Realize That Baseline "Raptors" Sign Isn't Real. Accessed 8th August 2013