(Photo: Keith Allison)
A group of more than 60 clergy have signed and sent a letter to the owner of a National Football League team demanding that the franchise change its Native American derived name.
Circulated by the Rev. Graylan Hagler of the District of Columbia, the letter calls on the Washington Redskins to change their team name.
Working with the campaign Change the Mascot, Rev. Hagler said in a statement released Thursday that he hoped the effort will gain an interfaith presence.
"This is not just a civil rights issue - it is a moral issue," said Hagler, senior minister at Plymouth Congregational United Church of Christ. "I hope that whatever your particular religious tradition, you will also join this campaign."
The letter from the clergy has been hailed by the Oneida Indian Nation, which has been spearheading efforts to have the name changed.
"These clergy leaders have sent a powerful message to the NFL that no group deserves to be treated as the target of a hurtful racial slur, and that Native Americans should be treated as what we are: Americans," stated Oneida spokesman Ray Halbritter on Thursday.
Debate over the appellation of Washington, D.C.'s professional football team has gone on for several years, with interest in the debate ebbing and flowing with time.
In May, Redskins owner Daniel Snyder said he had no plans to change the name, stating his belief that the name has a strong tradition attached to it.
"We'll never change the name. … It's that simple. NEVER – you can use caps," remarked Snyder to USA Today Sports.
Last month, the Council for the District of Columbia unanimously passed a resolution demanding that the Washington Redskins change their team name.
"The word 'redskins' is objectionable to many Americans who consider it to be racist and derogatory, and the use of the term is increasingly considered to be insensitive in our multi-cultural society," reads the resolution, in part.
"The owner of the Washington NFL team is hereby urged to change the name of the football team to a name that is not offensive to Native Americans or any other ethnic group."
Defenders of the Redskins name have argued that the controversy is overblown as most Native Americans neither find the name offensive nor feel it is worth the time and effort to change it.
Rick Reilly, columnist with ESPN.com, wrote in September about the many Native Americans, including his father-in-law, who find the effort to change the name "silly."
"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," wrote Reilly.
"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."
If successful in changing the Washington's team name, activists will still have a long way to go to fully purge Native American sports team names in the United States.
Tom Bemis of The Wall Street Journal blog, The Tell, reported that as of October approximately 500 American high schools have sports teams with the name "Redskins," Braves," or "Indians."
"And that doesn't even count 'Warriors,' 'Savages,' 'Chiefs,' or names derived from specific tribes such as 'Cherokees,' 'Mohawks,' or 'Mohicans,'" wrote Bemis.