Washington Redskins helmets displaying the emblematic colors and team mascot. Recent debate over the racist connotations of the team name have lead to several sports reporters weighing in. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)
“Otto: Apes don’t read philosophy.
Wanda: Yes they do, Otto. They just don’t understand it” —A Fish Called Wanda
Living in the Washington, D.C., area. I have many friends who defend the name of our local football team, the Redskins. Even though I disagree with them vehemently, I actually feel bad that their chief advocate in the sports world is now ESPN’s Rick Reilly. Once a brilliant boy-wonder columnist for Sports Illustrated, Reilly has, to be kind, not aged well. He has become the sports writing equivalent of the safety information packet on an airplane: the thing you do not read. But alas, after much prompting, I have much to my regret read his latest. Reilly has written a column in defense of the Redskins name that is so myopic, so insulting and, frankly, so stupid, it makes the piece on Fox Sports comparing Johnny Manziel to Rosa Parks look like the work of Frank Deford. By all means check it out and make up your own mind, or take comfort that I read it so you wouldn’t have to. No one would blame you.
Let’s start with the first sentence. Reilly writes, “I guess this is where I’m supposed to fall in line and do what every other American sports writer is doing. 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.”
“Every other sportswriter”? Try three. Three mainstream media sportswriters have taken this step. They are Sports Illustrated’s Peter King, USA Today’s Christine Brennan and, in a serious but satirical way, ESPN’s Bill Simmons. Later in the column, Reilly will trash King and Brennan by name, but lacks the sand to call out Simmons. If nothing else, he knows where his maize is buttered.
Reilly then talks about his family, writing, “I just don’t quite know how to tell my father-in-law, a Blackfeet Indian [that the name is racist]. He owns a steak restaurant on the reservation near Browning, Mont. He has a hard time seeing the slap-in-the-face part.”
Some of his best friends—and family—are Native American. Your father-in-law who owns a steakhouse on the res loves the name? Good for him. The Oneida Nation wants it changed. So we can stand with the Oneida Nation, or Reilly’s father-in-law. That’s a tough one.
Later, in an aside, Reilly quotes his father-in-law voicing strong opposition to the Kansas City Chiefs’ name, but Reilly doesn’t dwell on this because it interrupts his central thesis. And oh my, what a thesis it is.
“White America has spoken,” he pens with what I’m sure he imagines is sardonic relish. “You [Native Americans] aren’t offended, so we’ll be offended for you.”