Source: USA TODAY
A letter castigating the team name of the Washington pro football club and signed by 61 religious leaders mostly from the Washington region is scheduled to be sent to NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell and team owner Daniel Snyder on Thursday, according to the minister who is the driving force behind it.
The letter, dated Dec. 5, casts the roiling national controversy over the team name as a moral issue and includes signatures of leaders from a range of faith communities including Lutheran, Episcopal, Methodist, Baptist, United Church of Christ, AME, Presbyterian, Unitarian, Jewish, Buddhist and Muslim.
“The derogatory term ‘redskin’ offends many Native Americans and others in this country,” the letter says. “This word, defined in the dictionary as a slur, should not be publicly marketed and celebrated in America, which is built on the ideals of respect and inclusion.”
Rev. Graylan Hagler, who helped write the letter and recruit the signatories, said clergy who signed on agreed they would also talk about the issue from their pulpits. Hagler hopes their sermons will ignite a religiously based grassroots campaign.
“If you use that word about a group of people, you characterize them as less than human,” Hagler told USA TODAY Sports. “You have stripped them of their humanity and taken away the likeness of God that is within all of us.”
Hagler, senior minister of Plymouth Congregational United Church of Christ in Washington, said he did not find any clergy who said they did not sign because they disagreed with the cause. He said a number of clergy he approached said they could not sign until their faith groups took an official stand.
“Some of the configurations under bishops felt they could not sign on until leadership has spoken,” said Hagler, who expects more signatures will be added in coming weeks and months.
“It’s a matter of building a movement,” he said. “We are poised for the spring and summer when various faith groups have their annual meetings so that we get the sanctions from those various groups.”
Rabbi Michael Lerner, founding editor of Tikkun magazine based in Berkeley, Calif., said he signed the letter because he identifies with the cause.
“It is as if a German team was to call itself the ‘Yids,’ which is a derogatory name sometimes used for Jews,” Lerner said. “It would feel obscene for a people who had been engaged in genocide against us to be trivializing their relationship with us in that kind of way.
“I feel similarly about an American team using in a flippant way a name that was often used to refer to Native Americans in a disrespectful way in a country that does not have in its national discourse any serious process of repentance for the genocide they experienced from us as we conquered this land.”
Lerner said he was dismayed to learn that Snyder, who says he will never change his team’s name, is Jewish.
“That adds another dimension of shame, that a Jewish person would be so insensitive and in a way arrogant to allow that disrespect to another people after being part of a people who have been so systematically disrespected in western civilizations,” Lerner said.
Snyder defended his team’s name in an open letter to fans in October. “The name was never a label,” Snyder wrote. “It was, and continues to be, a badge of honor.”
Hagler will be featured on an ad opposing the team name that is scheduled to air on Washington radio station WTOP this weekend. The ad is the latest in a series paid for by the Oneida Indian Nation and the first that does not feature the voice of Oneida Nation representative Ray Halbritter.
“This is not just a civil rights issue — it is a moral issue,” Hagler says in the ad. “I hope that whatever your particular religious tradition you will also join this campaign.”
Hagler held a meeting of roughly 40 people on folding chairs in the basement of his church in October at which a dozen clergy committed to the cause. Hagler said then that he would circulate a petition to try to enlist more clergy. The letter to Goodell and Snyder includes some of the language in the original petition.
Halbritter, who attended that meeting, said then: “Black clergy have been the conscience of America. This is not a fight we could do by ourselves or should do by ourselves.”
Halbritter also met earlier that day with U.S. Rep. Betty McCollum. On Thursday the National Congress of American Indians will hold a news briefing on the team name coordinated by McCollum (D-Minn.) and U.S. Rep. Tom Cole (R-Ok.), co-chairs of the Congressional Native American Caucus.
“Each of us, regardless of our religious tradition, gender, or the color of our skin, is created in the image of the Almighty,” the clergy letter says. “We should all strive to treat one another with dignity, respect and compassion, just as we would like to be treated ourselves.”
Others who signed the letter include Alton B. Pollard III, dean of the Howard University School of Divinity, and Rev. Luis Leon, rector of St. John’s Church Lafayette Square, across from the White House.
The letter urges Goodell and Snyder “to look within, and to consider the feelings of your fellow Americans who are hurt and offended by the continued use of this word. We pray that you will end the use of Washington’s harmful NFL mascot, and instead help lead our country down a path of inclusion and mutual respect.”
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