UCC clergy campaign against name of Washington, D.C., NFL team
Written by Emily Schappacher
October 25, 2013

The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines the word "redskin" as "a usually offensive term for American Indian." That's the problem the Rev. Graylon Hagler, senior pastor of Plymouth Congregational United Church of Christ in Washington, D.C., has with the name of the local football team. The fact that the National Football League has a team called the Washington Redskins, with a logo depicting a red-faced Native American with feathers in his hair, is something that Hagler has never been able to wrap his head around. 

"We have agreement in the English language that it is a slur," Hagler said of the term. "So why should we continue to use it, yell it out at games, and say it on the airways?"

It's a question Hagler has been asking for the past 20 years. And it’s just one reason he and more than 100 other clergy from the Washington, D.C., area are openly supporting the Oneida Indian Nation’s Change the Mascot campaign being waged against the D.C. team’s name and logo and what they represent. Last week, Plymouth Congregational UCC hosted a diverse group of clergy who committed to take action to support the Oneida’s cause by preaching about the issue in their sermons on Sunday, Oct. 27. The group also plans to circulate petitions among clergy and lay leaders for signatures, expressing written support for a team name change, which will be sent to NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell and Washington Redskins team owner Daniel Snyder.

"As faith leaders in our nation’s capital, we feel we must take a stand on an important moral issue at the forefront of local and national consciousness: the offensive and inappropriate name of Washington’s NFL team," the petition states. "As representatives of our faith communities, we believe that this is a moral issue and we therefore have an obligation to step forward to join the Change the Mascot movement."

The Oneidas expect to meet with representatives from the NFL to talk about the issue next month, and the group’s Change the Mascot campaign includes a website and a series of radio ads geared toward getting the league to change the team’s name. While Snyder has very publicly stated that he will "never" agree to change the team’s name, Hagler says the work of the faith community will not be in vain if it helps people see that the fight is about more than a football team’s name – it’s about right and wrong.

"The reality is that, right now, he can say never, but the issue still remains that right is right and wrong is wrong," Hagler said. "Even though our efforts are plotting to change the name of the football team, our message is really at the heart of racial sensitivity and understanding. If someone else can determine for you what is offensive and is not offensive, that is the height of arrogance and also the height of the way race plays out in this country."

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Ms. Emily Schappacher
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