Last month, ESPN pundit Rick Reilly entered into the debate over the Washington Redskins name with a rambling, aggrieved column that read like one of the fuming broadsides against political correctness that fuel talk radio. In deploying the classic "some of my friends" canard, Reilly quoted Bob Burns, his own father-in-law and a member of the Blackfoot Nation in Montana, as saying the debate was "silly." Except that's not quite what Burns said.
Burns, who is understandably quite offended by the team's nickname, told his side of the story at Indian Country Today.
So you can imagine my dismay when I saw my name and words used to defend the racist Washington Redskins name. My son-in-law, ESPN's Rick Reilly, completely misunderstood the conversation we had, quoting me as saying "the whole issue is so silly. The name just doesn't bother me much. It's an issue that shouldn't be an issue, not with all the problems we've got in this country."
But that's not what I said.
What I actually said is that "it's silly in this day and age that this should even be a battle -- if the name offends someone, change it." He failed to include my comments that the term "redskins" demeans Indians, and historically is insulting and offensive, and that I firmly believe the Washington Redskins should change their name.
Burns asked his son-in-law to correct it. Reilly did nothing, so Burns penned this piece.
Reilly responded to the column later, writing on Twitlonger:
While I stand by the reporting in my Sept. 18 column about the Washington Redskins nickname controversy, and felt I accurately quoted my father-in-law in the piece, clearly he feels differently. This is an incredibly sensitive issue, and Bob felt he had more to say on the subject after that column was posted on ESPN.com. We've spoken and cleared this up. I admire Bob and respect his opinions, and he's welcome to express them. Bob and I are good and I'm looking forward to my next steak with him.
There are a couple things to consider, here, beyond the usual LOL Reilly aspect:
First, what Reilly did is unethical, if indeed the quotes are inaccurate. Misquoting a source and then refusing to correct it at most newspapers, television stations and online publications can get people fired.
Second, Burns recounts why he and most Native Americans are opposed to the term "redskins" being embraced and defended by Reilly, team owner Dan Snyder and others. His ancestors were murdered by Federal troops at the Bear River Massacre. Sand Creek, Wounded Knee and other such atrocities that were a regular feature of the orchestrated genocide of Indians by the U.S. government. Burns goes on to share memories from his youth when signs plastered around town kept Native Americans out of businesses.
Our Indian families who live on reservations continue to feel the sting of racism. I could never support the term "redskins" because we know first-hand what racism and ignorance has done to the Blackfeet people. Our people grew up hearing terms like nits, dirty redskins, prairie nigger, savages, heathens, lazy Indians and drunks -- all derogatory terms used to label us.
A week after publishing the column, Reilly responded to criticism in a mailbag piece on the ESPN website.
From that piece:
I still don't know whether "redskin" is a racist term, I just know that on many Native American reservations, they don't think so.
He should have just listened to everything his father-in-law had to say.