Rick Reilly wrote a column arguing against the Washington Redskins changing their name. In the column, he quoted his Native American father-in-law Bob Burns as not being offended by the name. His father-in-law, it turns out, was misquoted. As first noticed by Deadspin, Burns wrote his own correction in an editorial for the Indian Country Today Media Network.
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.
Either Reilly horribly misremembered a conversation, and never bothered to double check it (and wasn’t fact-checked). Or, he misquoted and exploited his father-in-law to support a lame column premise and then refused to retract it when asked. We could break down on the journalism ethics, but the human ethics may be the graver issue.
We reached out to ESPN for a comment. We were told the company would have a response this evening.
[UPDATE: Here is an official statement from Rick Reilly.]
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.
So they are just going to agree to disagree about a direct quote?