TONY REALI ’96 ON LIVING YOUR FAITH IN FRONT OF MILLIONS

March 6, 2017

This article originally appeared on The Washington Post‘s website on March 4, 2017:

I guess I’m giving up silence for Lent this year.

That’s an odd thing to say when you make a living yapping about sports on ESPN. And odder when the show I host, “Around the Horn,” makes a game out of LOUD NOISES. (That is to say, loud, perspicacious noises from the most insightful sportswriters in America!) I press a mute button to shut them down if (when!) our sports debate careens out of bounds (Fake News!). Silence is how I penalize. Silence works. But is silence good?

I’ve been on national television for 16 years and for all 16 I wore an ash on Ash Wednesday. I am grateful to ESPN and fortunate to work in an environment that allows me to be myself. But it’s shocking to me that I’m one of the few faces you see on TV wearing an ash. I did an interview where the reporter told me if you put “The Guy Who Wears Ashes on TV” into Google, I’m the first name that comes up. That’s surprising. (Also true: I’m the first name that comes up for “The Guy Who Proposed In Between The Men’s and Women’s Bathroom at LaGuardia Airport.” Not as surprising.)

Among ESPN viewers, it’s well known I’ll be wearing the ash and there’s an expectation. I’m not sure how I feel about that. Sports websites have kept a running tally of my ash through the years. ‘How Heavy Thumbed Will Fr. Mario Be This Season?!’ I see the humor in that; I was tattooed in ‘06, crop dusted in ‘09, this year: “clean, minimal, very on trend for 2017,” according to one tweeter. While I get questions like: “dad n em wana kno wats on ur coconut man,” the overwhelming energy has always been support and praise.

I struggle with the publicness of the ash. I was rolling in the pew laughing (RIPL!) when this year’s Gospel started with “Beware of practicing your piety before others in order to be seen by them.” Isn’t that what I’m doing when I get the ash in the afternoon and go on TV a few hours later? Could I not go to Mass after work? I’m still not sure I have answers to those questions. I want viewers to see an authentic version of me, and on this one day that includes the ash.

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