ESPN columnist Rick Reilly hacks at Redskins controversy

October 15, 2012; San Diego, CA, USA; Denver Broncos executive vice president of football operations John Elway (right) helps apply makeup to ESPN the Magazine columnist Rick Reilly before the San Diego Chargers game against the Denver Broncos at Qualcomm Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

There was a time when Rick Reilly graced the back page of Sports Illustrated–the most coveted real estate a sports columnist could ever dream–and wrote some of the greatest takeout pieces of his generation. He was an 11-time National Sportswriter of the Year, and earned pretty much every distinguished award imaginable in the industry.

Now, sitting on a fat contract courtesy of ESPN, his jokes are laborious and based almost exclusively on blatantly atrocious puns, his writing has become nonsensical and stagnant, and sometimes the man who seemed to routinely tug on the heart strings and capture the spirit of the American public seems genuinely insensitive, if not entirely out of touch.

Wednesday night he decided to put his stamp on the Washington Redskins name controversy. That is his right–and technically his job–as a columnist, but long gone are the days where Reilly’s input mattered. Now it’s just gotten to the point where we laugh, or, even worse, shake our heads.

Especially when he writes kickers that equate putting an end to a nickname derived from a racial slur to pushing the Native-Americans onto reservations in the first place.

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.

Perhaps Reilly’s collapse is the byproduct of the void between print and television that swallowed so many other talented writers before him. However, regardless of the reason, Rick Reilly  has gotten so out of touch, that he devoted 800 words to a contrary piece taking other members of the media to task for calling out the Washington Redskins for their racist nickname.

The basis of his argument: His Native-American father-in-law doesn’t find it offensive at all. As a matter of fact, Rick Reilly’s father-in-law apparently finds the Kansas City Chiefs and their fans even more offensive than Redskins.

Reilly goes on to state that the feigned outrage of national columnists like Christine Brennan of the USA Today and Peter King, a former Sports Illustrated colleague, of is another effort of white people to enforce political-correctness light-heartedly in an effort to atone for past transgressions.

In the heart of Wednesday’s column, he claims:

Too late. White America has spoken. You aren’t offended, so we’ll be offended for you.

Now, perhaps Rick has a point. Maybe we do take ourselves too seriously as a nation sometimes in regards to race. However, other times we don’t take things near seriously enough.

But, you know what seems just as hypocritical as white sportswriters addressing a racial slur that in no way, shape or form pertains to them? White sportswriters speaking on behalf of an entire race of people to claim that the aforementioned racial slur isn’t offensive AT ALL.

Even if that racial slur happens to be an outdated term, there’s really no mistaking the history of the word. And, as many of those other columnists had already mentioned, if we used an outdated racial slur of any other kind in reference to any other peoples, you could be certain that nobody would stand for it.

However, Native-Americans only account for 0.9% of this country’s population. Rick Reilly happens to know one of the three million Native-Americans in this country and he doesn’t find the word “redskin” offensive. Then, like all great journalists in search of a well-sourced story, Reilly found three high schools with large percentages of the student body that have at least trace amount of Native-American ancestry that use “Redskins” as their mascot that don’t find it offensive, either.

So, that automatically means that the word is universally inoffensive and has never been offensive, right?

Wrong, Rick.

The word “redskin” is offensive BECAUSE the nickname is derived from using the word as a derogatory term. It’s not something we came up with that honors a near extinct race of proud people. It’s a word that was once used to taunt them and then used in very close proximity to the taunting as a convenient mascot for our sports teams.

Rick Reilly mentions other potentially offensive names like the Ole Miss Rebels and wonders where the outrage is there. Well, Rick, in case you hadn’t heard, Colonel Reb is no more, and that’s thanks in large part to an outcry against a mascot and nickname that is derived from allegiance to the Confederacy–the guys who fought FOR slavery.

Chances are the Rebels nickname, despite Mississippi maintaining that the nickname is designed to preserve Southern heritage, won’t last much longer. The outrage, while past-due, is very clearly there.

But, by Rick Reilly’s standards, he’s allowed to speak on behalf of Native-Americans as a whole. He knows a Native-American. He called some more Native-Americans.

I guess that makes me qualified to write the rebuttal. I played for a high school whose nickname is the Redskins. I lived it. I still do, and though I didn’t find it offensive as a 17-year old, I’ve learned over time that referencing an atrocity for the sake of sport probably isn’t necessary.

There’s about 15,000 people in my hometown who would vehemently disagree. Not more than a handful of them are Native-American (the Native-Americans who once lived in the Illinois River Valley have long since been driven out of the area and onto reservations in Wisconsin and Iowa), but that really doesn’t matter. Because their vitriol would be an almost entirely knee-jerk reaction to change. People don’t simply don’t like it.

Just ask the city of Washington D.C.

However, 15 years from now, after the Washington Redskins become the Servicemen or the Generals and the Morris Redskins become the Cornhuskers or the Rivermen, we’ll probably all be better off for not using a racial slur as a nickname for no damn good reason. And the discussion will probably make us all closely examine our checkered past as a nation, as well.

But Rick Reilly can go ahead and keep being dismissive. His father-in-law is Native American.

And Riley Cooper isn’t racist. He has black friends.