Rick Reilly Offers a Poor Defense of the Redskins Name

On Wednesday evening, Rick Reilly published a defense of the Washington Redskins' team name, basically arguing that "Native Americans don't care, so why should anyone else?"

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On Wednesday evening, Rick Reilly published a defense of the Washington Redskins' team name, basically arguing that "Native Americans don't care, so why should anyone else?"

Branching out from a sample size of one, his father-in-law, Reilly provides examples of Native Americans who are not particularly offended by the use of the term Redskins, writing that, "White America has spoken. You aren't offended, so we'll be offended for you."

And even though an Annenberg Public Policy Center poll found that 90 percent of Native Americans were not offended by the Redskins name, and even though linguists say the "redskins" word was first used by Native Americans themselves, and even though nobody on the Blackfeet side of my wife's family has ever had someone insult them with the word "redskin," it doesn't matter. There's no stopping a wave of PC-ness when it gets rolling.

I mean, when media stars like USA Today's Christine Brennan, a white woman from Ohio, and Peter King, a white man from Massachusetts, have jumped on a people's cause, there's no going back.

He later goes on to compare uproar over the Redskins name with atheists offended by the New Orleans Saints and thinking that the Washington Wizards promote paganism. and then he ends on this real doozy:

The 81-year-old Washington Redskins name is falling, and everybody better get out of the way. For the majority of Native Americans who don't care, we'll care for them. For the Native Americans who haven't asked for help, we're glad to give it to them.

Trust us. We know what's best. We'll take this away for your own good, and put up barriers that protect you from ever being harmed again.

Kind of like a reservation.

Reaction from various places was fast and swift. Over at The Huffington Post, Chris Greenberg called Reilly out for " choosing not to engage public comments from [Oneida Nation Representative Ray] Halbritter, [Congressman Tom] Cole and any other Native Americans who find the name of Snyder's team to be offensive."

At Deadspin, Tim Marchman, took issue with the column's final "punchline," noting, "We don't know why he's essentially equating criticism of overtly racist iconography with the forced relocation of entire nations, or how anyone could possibly publish this." Dave Zirin, writing for The Nation, compared the metaphor to "a poop in the pool," saying, "I think I’m just going to let that sit there and speak for itself."

Zirin's rebuttal of Reilly is the most thorough and convincing of the bunch, noting that those championing a name change do not constitute the vast majority of white sports writers, but just three people: Peter King and Christine Brennan (mentioned in the quote above), and Bill Simmons (another ESPN employee conspicuously left uncriticized by Reilly).

The lack of a long-term historical view from Reilly is central to Zirin's anger at the piece, although Zirin notes that a majority of polls indicate that most people do not support a name change. He writes:

But Rick Reilly is not done. He points out that Redskins existed for 82 years so why change now? As mentioned, this is ignorant of the 40 years Native Americans have agitated to change it. But forget that. Imagine someone saying to Claudette Colvin, "You people have been on the back of this bus for 40 years. Why is this now an issue?" Or to the suffragettes, "Sweetie, you couldn't cast a vote for a century. Now it's a problem?" Actually we don't have to imagine it. That's exactly what people, the Rick Reillys of their day, have always said to oppressed groups to make them sit down and shut up. Dr. Martin Luther King wrote an entire book "Why We Can't Wait" to answer this. I'd suggest Reilly read some King but I fear he'd say, "Peter King wrote a book?"

The header image that accompanied Reilly's piece featured the logos of the Redskins, the Atlanta Braves, and the Kansas City Chiefs, implying, "if you can't fix every potentially offensive thing, why bother trying to fix any of them?"

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.