For the Washington Post’s Jason Reid, covering the Redskins has been “a 24-hour, seven-day-a-week job” ever since he came on board in 2007. In his new role as the Post’s sports columnist, he’s expected to write not just about the Redskins but also about the Wizards, Nationals, and Capitals, not to mention Georgetown and the University of Maryland. And Reid isn’t just taking a new job—he’s replacing the latest star to flee the Post for new opportunities, Michael Wilbon, a man who was decidedly more pessimistic about Washington’s sports scene than Reid says he is today.
“I’ve got a lot of work ahead of me,” says Reid, 41.
But developing his knowledge base is only the first of Reid’s challenges. Wilbon is one of the most well-known sports commentators in the country. For years, Wilbon has cohosted ESPN’s PTI: Pardon the Interruption and also served as a studio analyst for the network’s NBA coverage, in addition to his columnist duties at the newspaper.
As for Reid? Well, he’s a good beat reporter, having covered the Dodgers and Clippers for the Los Angeles Times and the Redskins for the Post. It’s clear he knows the difference between his experience and Wilbon’s job.
“I’ve never been a columnist before,” he says. “It’s hard for me to sit here and imagine every scenario in which I’d be writing a column, but I’d say that you have to play the role of an advocate. If you’re not speaking for the fans, then that’s a mistake.”
Wilbon, a native Chicagoan who’s now writing for ESPN.com’s Chicago portal, views his role differently as a Post columnist: “My wife is a Washingtonian, so I know enough to know I’m not a Washingtonian. I don’t speak for them. My role in Chicago is already different because I sort of do [speak for them].”
“In Washington, I viewed myself as a discussion leader,” Wilbon continues. “I wanted to tell people what I thought was important to pay attention to that day. The Washington readership is the most literate readership you can have, and so I always enjoyed that, but I was never connected to them in an emotional way about Washington sports.”
The two also see the state of the Washington-sports scene differently. Wilbon, 52, first arrived here as a summer intern in 1979. The following year, he moved to the city to begin working full-time.
“When I got here, the scene was unbelievably hot,” he says, recalling the Bullets’ trips to the NBA finals, the Redskins under Joe Gibbs, as well as Georgetown and Maryland being atop the basketball world. “It was grand. Now it stinks: The Capitals are carrying the banner for the whole town because the Wizards stink and the Redskins are hideous.”
Reid has lived here only since 2007, when he began writing about the Redskins for the Post. While he senses the despair of local sports fans, he also sees hope: “When you’re talking about the DC landscape, you’re talking about an area that has been dominated by the Redskins, but each of these other professional sports teams have people in place who potentially could, if not totally tilt the balance of power away from the Redskins, at least help these other organizations continue to make inroads in the next three to five years.”
Reid is also an optimist about one of the of the toughest tasks he’ll face as a columnist: knowing when to call for a coach or team official’s firing.
“Will there come a time when I call for someone’s job?” he says. “Yeah. Could that happen? I’m not going to say that will never happen. But we’re all human. At the end of the day, I hope I’ll never lose sight of the fact that people can fail and still be good, hard-working people.”
Reid knows that that warning can just as easily apply to columnists like himself, but he insists he’s not worried. And he’ll build the foundation for his column on the reporting he knows best. After that, he’ll let his heart do the talking.
“People tell me, ‘Look, you do the best job you can,’ ” Reid says. “ ‘Be honest, strive for accuracy, be fair—and at the end of the day let the chips fall.’ ”