Las month, ESPN host and sportswriter Rick Reilly penned a column opposing efforts to change the Washington Redskins’ name out of sensitivity to Native Americans. In his article, Reilly quoted his father-in-law, Bob Burns, an elder in the Native American Blackfeet tribe, as saying that the Redskins name was completely harmless. Now, Burns says that Reilly took his words out of context and that Reilly strongly supports efforts to rename the Washington Redskins.
In Reilly’s original article, he argued that Native Americans do not find the term “redskins” offensive, claiming that only white people are getting worked up about the name. To illustrate this, he claimed that his Blackfeet father-in-law feels that “redskins” is a perfectly acceptable term for Native Americans. Reilly even offered a full quote from Burns to drive the point home that Native Americans are unconcerned about the Washington Redskins’ name.
"The whole issue is so silly to me," Reilly quoted Burns as saying last month. "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."
On Thursday, Burns responded to Reilly with a piece for the Indian Country Today Media Network, stating that his son-in-law deliberately twisted his words for his ESPN article:
"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 ends his article by claiming that his is unequivocally in support of changing the Washington Redskins’ name.
“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,” he wrote. “In the memory of our Blackfeet relatives, it’s time to change the name. That would honor us.
"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."
Later on Thursday, Reilly stated on Twitter that he had not meant to intentionally misquote his father-in-law and that he and Burns had made up.
“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,” Reilly wrote. “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.”
Several outlets, including USA Today's The Big Lead, have speculated that Reilly may get fired by ESPN over the misquote.