Churches propose a boycott of Redskins unless the team changes its name


The Redskins have come under increasing pressure in the past year to change the team name. (Jonathan Newton/Washington Post)

The governing body of United Church of Christ congregations in the Mid-Atlantic is proposing that its members boycott Washington Redskins games and shun products bearing the team’s logo until the team changes its name and mascot.

In a meeting Saturday in Catonsville, the 25-member board of directors of the Central Atlantic Conference of the UCC unanimously passed the boycott resolution, pointedly avoiding use of the word Redskins. The board, mostly laypeople, proposed that the 22,000 members of the liberal denomination “join a boycott of games played by the Washington National League Football team and not wear, display or purchase any items with the Washington National League Football team logo until the name changes.”

The 180 congregations in the conference, which stretches from Richmond to New Jersey, were asked to debate the resolution before a vote on whether to adopt it at the conference’s annual meeting in mid-June. The conference also asked the church’s national governing body to consider passing a similar boycott resolution.

“If you look at the dictionary definition of the present team name, it’s a derogatory term,” said the Rev. John R. Deckenback, the minister who leads the conference. “We’d like the name of the team to be changed.”

Team spokesman Tony Wyllie offered a response, saying, “We respect those who disagree with our team’s name, but we wish the United Church of Christ would listen to the voice of the overwhelming majority of Americans, including Native Americans, who support our name and understand it honors the heritage and tradition of the Native American community.”

The Redskins have come under increasing pressure in the past year to jettison their moniker. The Oneida Indian Nation, a small tribe in upstate New York, has been at the forefront of the effort, running an ad campaign, seeking support from business, religious and political leaders, and meeting with the United Nations’ human rights office to press its case.

But team owner Dan Snyder has steadfastly refused to change the name, saying in an open letter to fans in October that he considers it a “badge of honor” and a symbol of “strength, courage, pride, and respect — the same values we know guide Native Americans and which are embedded throughout their rich history as the original Americans.”

Joel Barkin, a spokesman for the Oneida tribe, said the team can expect more Americans to boycott the team and its merchandise until it comes up with a new name.

“The team should expect that the longer this plays out and the longer the debate goes on, and the more people are educated why there is so much strong objection to the name,” he said, “there will be more and more economic consequences to continue using a dictionary-defined racial slur as a mascot.”

Barkin said the tribe is grateful for the boycott calls coming from areas where the team draws most of its fans.

“This was further evidence this is not simply an issue of political correctness, but a moral issue,” he said. “This is the heart of the fan base saying, ‘While we support the team’s history and understand the legacy, it is no longer acceptable in the 21st century.’ We think the members of their churches will put more stock in what their religious leaders tell them than what the team owners have told them.”

Carol Morello writes about demographics and the census, as well as a lot of other stuff that comes down the pike. She has worked at the Washington Post since 2000.
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