Rick Reilly Reportedly Misquoted Father-in-Law in Famous Redskins Article

Gabe Zaldivar@gabezalPop Culture Lead WriterOctober 10, 2013

Twitter was abuzz on Thursday afternoon (Oct. 10) when word came that ESPN columnist Rick Reilly misquoted his father-in-law in his now-famous piece defending the Washington Redskins team name. 

The source of the grumbling is none other than Reilly's father-in-law, Bob Burns. 

In a piece written on Indian Country Today Media Network, Burns leaves no question as to his thoughts on the Redskins name or his claim that he was not appropriately quoted in Reilly's column, published by ESPN on Sept. 18

While the entire piece is moving and worth your time, here is the most pertinent part of the Native American's rebuttal: 

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. 

At its most benign, it's a story of a seasoned, veteran columnist who may have misheard his father-in-law or misunderstood what he was being told. At its most egregiously inappropriate, words were twisted to fit and conform to the writer's thesis: The name "Redskins" doesn't bother my wife's father, so why should it bug you?

Dec 19, 2011; San Francisco, CA, USA; ESPN commentator Rick Reilly on the field before the game between the San Francisco 49ers and the Pittsburgh Steelers at Candlestick Park. San Francisco defeated Pittsburgh 20-3. Mandatory Credit: Jason O. Watson-USA
Jason O. Watson-USA TODAY Sports

The main portion of Reilly's article with reference to Burns is as follows:

I just don't quite know how to tell my father-in-law, a Blackfeet Indian. He owns a steak restaurant on the reservation near Browning, Mont. He has a hard time seeing the slap-in-the-face part.

"The whole issue is so silly to me," says Bob Burns, my wife's father and a bundle holder in the Blackfeet tribe. "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." 

Twitter, as good of an indicator of the general public's reaction as we have in real time, issued some thoughts on the matter:

And writers, aspiring and otherwise, can look to Bleacher Report's Matt Miller and King Kaufman for the gravity of the situation:

The overwhelming issue here is clearly Reilly's decision to portray Burns in a completely different light for the benefit of his column. However, if we can step back from the unfortunate circumstances and instead concentrate on the truly awful, that would be splendid. 

Burns makes it very clear for all of us at the end of his column how he, a Blackfeet elder, truly feels about a team name that—despite what his son-in-law would have us believe—is still a slap-in-the-face moniker:

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.

In the memory of our Blackfeet relatives, it’s time to change the name. That would honor us.

There you have it. 

No need to source anyone's relative or sugarcoat the situation with flowery words, because that is as direct a quote as you are going to get. 

It took some doing, but Burns finally made his feelings known. 

ESPN will undoubtedly have a response, and Reilly already has one, via Twitter:

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.

Is Reilly being genuine? It's hard to tell. But whether it's opining about some quarterback's struggles, debating a random NBA star's leadership qualities or engaging in the volatile subject of a racially charged team name, the need for the truth is undeniable. 

C'mon, Reilly. You're better than this. 


Hit me up on Twitter