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Dick Harmon: Jimmer Fredette-bashing column the latest in a litany of criticism from Colorado

Published: Tuesday, March 29 2011 12:53 a.m. MDT

So, you probably read the hate-filled personal attack ESPN.com columnist Rick Reilly did on Jimmer Fredette over the weekend.

You could say Reilly "Jimmered" the Jimmer on this one.

And you'd be correct.

The Reilly commentary stands alone as the most vitriolic, acidic shakedown of the Cougar All-American in his career.

Why did Reilly's commentary appear to be so personal, a piece filled with shots at religion, laced with clear dislike, patent animosity and loathing?

Here is a theory.

A brief step back in history might enlighten you. There is a track record dating back almost three decades of this particular brand of commentary originating from sportswriters with ties to the Denver market and Boulder — home of the University of Colorado — in particular.

It seems to be based on a resentment for Utah, the LDS conservative culture in general and BYU specifically.

Fredette was just the next subject in the crosshairs of the media with roots in Colorado.

Reilly was born and raised in Boulder and is a graduate of the University of Colorado. He's had a brilliant career as an author and sportswriter, most notably with Sports Illustrated before ESPN.

Boulder is considered a very progressive-minded part of the Rockies. Some like to use the word "liberal" to describe the CU community, one that sells itself as a left-wing haven for free thinkers unburdened by the shackles of religion.

The University of Colorado has struggled to establish a meaningful collegiate athletic presence outside the professional Denver Broncos since the days of Chuck Fairbanks and the national title in the Bill McCartney era.

Resentment 101.

The first time I noticed this factor was in 1988 at the Freedom Bowl in Anaheim, Calif., when then-Rocky Mountain News (Denver) columnist Jay Mariotti wrote a scathing column about BYU football player racism, racial slurs, cheap shots and dirty play before kickoff. He centered his column on alleged racial slurs from BYU players during a game at San Diego State a month earlier.

Mariotti's second column, a postgame wrap-up centered on BYU dirty play, Buffalo players being the victims of cheap shots and a racist attitude by the Cougars. His commentary was highly inflammatory and filled with accusations without reaction from head coach LaVell Edwards or his players or staff.

At that time CU was gearing up for Big Eight titles the next three years and a national title in 1990 but BYU and Ty Detmer prevailed in that 1988 bowl.

The next shot came Aug. 31, 1992, in a Sports Illustrated article about how BYU was the most hated team in America.

The article, titled "Clean Sober and Insufferable," was authored by veteran SI writer Doug Looney, a longtime resident of Boulder who is now a retired journalism instructor at CU, a classroom career that spanned through the late '80s, '90s and most of this decade.

The third volley out of Boulder came Nov. 12, 2001, by Reilly for Sports Illustrated. It came after BYU climbed to 9-0 and appeared headed towards a Top-10 ranking under first-year coach Gary Crowton. The title on Reilly's piece was "Brigham Young? I Don't Think So." It hammered BYU for having older, more mature players, asking Americans to call their congressmen because the Cougars were like special ops soldiers beating up on Webelos.

Interestingly enough, Reilly's piece came out just as his alma mater, CU, was closing in on its only Big 12 championship and win over Texas that December.

Specifically, this Reilly article came out the week the AP rankings had BYU ranked No. 13 and his CU Buffs at No. 14.

These were Reilly's concluding two paragraphs:

"From now on, nobody older than 23 at the start of a season should be allowed to play college football. Look, nobody's criticizing Mormon missions. If you feel the calling, good for you. However, the mission isn't required by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and it's perfectly fine to go on one after you finish college, or even after you retire. Nobody is limiting anybody's religious freedom here, but it's not fair that these BYU players get to go back, suit up and kick the bejesus out of kids fresh out of high school.

"That stuff just isn't Christian."

A fourth controversial shot at Utah's culture from Denver came from Post columnist Woody Paige during the 2002 Olympics hosted by Salt Lake City. A contemporary of Mariotti at Denver's largest newspaper, Paige worked with Mariotti at the News in the late '80s and appeared on ESPN's "Around the Horn" show when it began.

Paige wrote a column making fun of LDS culture, everything from polygamy, Jell-O, alcohol, coffee, and caffeine. It drew so much criticism the Denver Post pulled it off its website and Paige issued a public apology to Utah, even calling the Deseret News with an apology.

Last week in Denver, Paige did author a flattering column about Fredette and even quoted scripture from the Book of Mormon.

So, one may ask why Reilly took such a major shot at Fredette, a player he apparently only saw in person one time in his worst game of the year against Florida last week in the Sweet 16?

I don't know.

But as any detective will tell you, look for patterns. There is no such thing as coincidence.

This looks like a pattern, doesn't it?

email: dharmon@desnews.com

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