Washington ‘Redskins’ Controversy Comes to Montana

By Beacon Staff

The controversy surrounding the name of Washington D.C.’s NFL team has come to Montana.

Bob Burns, a Blackfeet tribal elder from Babb, says he was misrepresented in an ESPN column written by his son-in-law, Rick Reilly, about the Washington Redskins nickname controversy.

The football team’s name came under fire earlier this year when a delegate representative from American Samoa, authored a bill that would cancel all trademarks using the term “Redskins.” In the spring, members of Congress wrote letters to Washington Redskins owner Daniel Snyder asking he change the name because it was racially insensitive. President Barack Obama also weighed in recently, saying if he owned the team, he would change the name. Snyder has responded to critics that the name will never change.

ESPN’s Rick Reilly joined the debate on Sept. 18 with a column titled, “Have the people spoken?” In it, he said that many Native Americans were comfortable with the name, including his father-in-law, and that it honored Indians.

“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,” Reilly quoted Barns as saying.

But after the piece was published online, Barns came out and said that is not what he said and that Reilly has refused to author a correction. The tribal elder wrote a response on Indian Country Media Today Network that was being shared across the Internet on Friday.

“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,” Barns wrote.

Barns continued, saying that Indians on reservations continue to feel the sting of racism, even today. He also wrote that the term does nothing to honor Indians’ past and heritage.

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

On Thursday, Reilly issued a statement about the controversy on 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 the 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,” Reilly wrote.

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