ESPN Columnist Mangled American Indian Father-in-Law’s Words on the Redskins

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With the debate over the offensiveness of the Washington Redskins' team name reaching a fever pitch — even President Obama has chimed in — ESPN columnist Rick Reilly has taken it upon himself to insist that Native Americans just don't care. In an embarrassing, wrong-side-of-history column last month, Reilly quoted his father-in-law, a Blackfeet elder, as his primary evidence, insisting the man could just not understand the outrage. In a very public rebuttal today, Reilly's father-in-law claimed he said the exact opposite. Awkward.

From Reilly's September 18 ESPN column, "Have the people spoken?":

I'm supposed to swear I won't ever write the words "Washington Redskins" anymore because it's racist and offensive and a slap in the face to all Native Americans who ever lived. Maybe it is.

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."

And here's Bob Burns today, via Deadspin, for the Indian Country Today Media Network:

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.

To make matters more uncomfortable, Reilly's wife, Cynthia, has been known to do his reportorial wrangling. She should probably give her dad a call ASAP.