A three weeks ago, Rick Reilly wrote a column attacking those who believe it’s time for the Washington football team to change its name. He argued, among other things, that many Native Americans weren’t really bothered by the name and that the campaign against it was directed, in significant part, by politically correct white people. Reilly invoked his father-in-law, Bob Burns, a Blackfeet elder, whom Reilly quoted as saying the kerfuffle over the name was just “silly.”
According to the very same Bob Burns, however, Reilly misquoted him.
I’ve spent a lifetime humbly working to learn, to preserve, to teach and to help us to remember who we are as a distinct people.
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, andhistorically is insulting and offensive, and that I firmly believe the Washington Redskins should change their name.
It’ll be interesting to see how Reilly worms his way out of this one.
Update, October 11: Via the Big Lead, Reilly has issued a statement:
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.
This strikes me as a fairly serious problem. The main cover for Reilly’s piece was his father-in-law, who has now unambiguously said he provided no such thing. Doesn’t ESPN need to weigh in here? Can writers at ESPN misquote as blatantly as Burns says Reilly did, without repercussion?