Rick Reilly Presumes to Know What’s Best for All Adoptees

David J Phillip/AP

Rick Reilly is a sports writer. Colin Kaepernick is a quarterback, about to play in the Super Bowl on Sunday.

Reilly is an adoptive father to an 18 year-old daughter, and Kaepernick is an adoptee. Presumably, these two would have a lot to talk about, were they to sit down to dinner together. Unfortunately, Reilly (probably with the best of intentions) made an ass of himself by publicly challenging Kaepernick’s statement that he isn’t curious about his birth mother.

First Reilly assumes that Kaepernick isn’t curious because he thinks meeting his birth mother would be a betrayal to his adoptive family. Which Kaepernick never said. Second, Reilly assumes what the birth mother feels, and must have felt, about the person she gave birth to:

But you can’t imagine what it would mean, how deeply it would be felt, for a woman with regrets and doubts to once again hold her child, even for five seconds. A meeting like that could fill two hearts.

Fellow adoptee Matthew Salesses, in the New York Times, expresses concern over all these presumptions:

….[I]t isn’t for my parents to say whether I should contact my birth mother or not. I am sure they know such a statement would set me off, as would the suggestion that they should control that decision. It is certainly not another adoptive parent’s place to say what I should do. I am a parent, and I am annoyed enough when another parent tells me what is “best” for my child.

Right now, as I understand it, adoptees are fighting for adoptee rights so that they can make such decisions themselves. For a long time, adoptive parents have decided what adoptees can and can’t do. Sometimes, that meant closing off access to birth parents; sometimes, telling them to meet. Adoptive parents have spoken for adoptees’ feelings. Adoptive parents have written the literature and taught families how they should treat adoptees.

The adoptee is the central figure in an adoption. The adoptee should have the right to do what he wants about his birth parents. He shouldn’t have to deal with a sportswriter telling him how to be “healthy,” “healing” and “natural.”

It seems to me that adults should have the right to make their own choices, and adoptees are certainly no exception. Neither Rick Reilly, nor any of the rest of us (even those who are adoptees), know how Colin Kaepernick feels, and we should never presume that we do.

What do you think of Rick Reilly’s statements about Kaepernick?

Does an adoptive father have any right to presume the experience of adoptees, birth parents, or even other adoptive parents?

If you’re an adoptee, how did Reilly’s statements reflect your own experience?

About Joanna Schroeder

Joanna Schroeder is a feminist writer and editor with a special focus in issues facing raising boys and gender in the media. Her work has appeared on Redbook, Yahoo!, xoJane, MariaShriver.com, TIME.com, and more. She and her husband are outdoor sports enthusiasts raising very active sons. She is currently co-editing a book of essays for boys and young men with author and advocate Jeff Perera. Follow her shenanigans on Twitter.


  1. Rick Reilly?


    I recommend that anyone curious about Rick Reilly’s other opinions hie over to Deadspin.com. Not recommended for people who wheeze after laughing.

  2. I am a 44 yr old adoptee and have never been interested in meeting my birth parents. I wanted information, medical and mental health history, but that was about it. I had good feelings toward my birth mother, but didn’t need a relationship with her to ‘fill my heart’. We corresponded about 15 yrs ago through a 3rd party and she wasn’t ready to meet me then either.
    As for Mr Reilly, presumption, even from a father who has some experience in the world of adoption is not wise. No two people are the same and while I am glad he has a positive view on what a meeting like that could be, it is insensitive to assume that is how it always happens.

  3. I’m an adoptee, and like Kaepernick I’ve never been particularly curious about my birth parents. It certainly sounds to me like Reilly is making far too many unjustified assumptions.

  4. Kathryn DeHoyos says:

    Not only do I think Reilly has no right to speak on this, whether he is an adoptive parent or not, but I think he needs to stop assuming he knows what the mother feels as well. He has no idea if she is filled “with regrets and doubts,” and maybe it would cause her more pain than happiness to “once again hold her child.” Yes a meeting like that could potentially “fill two hearts,” but it could also bring back possible trauma (say if she were a victim of rape) or any number of other emotions that may be better left alone.

    I understand that some women who place children up for adoption struggle with regrets, self-loathing, doubt, etc., but some do not, and either way it should be up to each individual how they chose to deal with it, and this goes for adoptees as well! There is nothing wrong with Colin Kaepernick having no desire to try to find his birth mother, that’s his business and his family’s business, and NOT the business of a sports writer who THINKS he understands just because he is an adoptive parent.

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