The dynamic between ESPN columnist Rick Reilly, a defender of the Washington Redskins nickname, and his father-in-law, a Blackfeet elder, went from curious to awkward to just plain weird Thursday night.
Reilly, in an ESPN column last month, had written a defense of the Washington Redskins’ nickname based on comments from Bob Burns, who, Reilly wrote, had no problem with it.
On Thursday, Burns wrote a rebuttal column in which he said that not only did he have a problem with the nickname, but that his son-in-law had misquoted him and, even more surprisingly, had not set the record straight when asked to do so.
In an Indian Country Today Media Network essay, Burns wrote: “Let me be clear: The racial slur ‘redskins’ is not okay with me. It’s never going to be okay with me. It’s inappropriate, damaging and racist.”
Burns went on to describe the conversational disconnect he’d had with Reilly and finished by saying that it’s time to change the team’s name:
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.
When Rick’s article came out, it upset me to be portrayed as an “Uncle Tom” in support of this racial slur. I asked him to correct the record. He has not, so I must do it myself.
That’s a rather large problem for Reilly — and not just a personal one. By Thursday evening, he responded:
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’s no word yet from ESPN’s ombudsman, Robert Lipsyte. Last month, he wrote a column musing about what might happen if the network “refused to use the R-word.”