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United Methodist agency applauds decision to drop athletic name

Oct. 31, 2006

WASHINGTON (UMNS) — The United Methodist Commission on Religion and Race praised McMurry University's decision to discontinue use of its athletic team name "the Indians."

The university's board of trustees made the decision Oct. 13 in compliance with the National Collegiate Athletic Association's prohibition against the use of such names and related mascots by teams in post-season tournament competition. The Abilene, Texas, university is one of 123 higher education institutions related to the United Methodist Church.

"The usage of the name 'Indians' for this purpose is offensive to many Native Americans because it reduces them to mere stereotypical symbols with little or no regard for the sanctity and complexity of native peoples' identity and character," said Suanne Ware-Diaz, staff representative for Native American constituency concerns for the commission.

"Even worse, such team names have often led to disrespectful and degrading practices by non-native people, such as donning Native American attire and displaying sacred Native symbols and articles inappropriately," she said.

No new mascot chosen

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John Russell
The school decided not to choose another mascot name but will simply refer to its teams in a more general way using the school's name, such as the McMurry Men's Basketball team, for example.

"The board and I believe that it is time to move on. It is time to focus our resources on creating more opportunities for our students," said John Russell, McMurry's president. McMurry had appealed to keep its Indian mascot. In an interview with the Associated Press, Russell said McMurry's nickname was a symbol of deep respect for the American Indian culture.

"McMurry's values are reflected less by what our athletic teams are called than by who we are and what we do. McMurry University has been committed to honoring Native Americans since its founding in 1923. Regardless of the NCAA position on our team names, we will continue to meet our commitment to honor the Native American and to the history and culture that has always defined McMurry," he said in a statement on the university's Web site.

The NCAA policy was announced in August 2005 and is set to take effect Feb. 1. McMurry was one of 18 schools listed as using Native American images deemed "hostile or abusive." Failure to comply with the policy will prevent the schools from hosting postseason events or displaying the symbols during championship competition.

Delegates to the 2004 United Methodist General Conference, the denomination's top lawmaking body, rejected the use of Native American names and symbols for sport teams, calling the practice dehumanizing and a blatant expression of racism.

The General Conference called upon all churchwide agencies, annual conferences and other United Methodist-related entities to hold meetings and events only in cities that do not sponsor sport teams using Native American names and symbols. After choosing an event location, the organization should state the denomination's position regarding Native American names and symbols, the conference said.

General Conference action

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Suanne Ware-Diaz
The 2012 United Methodist General Conference which was originally set to be held in Richmond, Va., was moved to Tampa, Fla., because Richmond is home to the pro baseball team the Braves.

"We are grateful and encouraged that the NCAA's prohibition has led a number of schools to change or forgo use of offensive Native American names, symbols and mascots for their athletic teams," Ware-Diaz said.

Decisions such as the one to move the General Conference site "assures native people that their appeals for the common respect accorded to other racial/ethnic groups are finally being heard and heeded," she said.

"There are more legitimate ways to honor the dignity, culture and sacred traditions of native people — for example, by increasing the presence of native students on campus and adding Native American studies to the university curriculum, or inviting native elders and leaders to come lecture and share their gifts, ideas and concerns with students and faculty," Ware-Diaz said.

McMurry is the only United Methodist-related school on the list of those affected by the NCAA's decision. Some of the schools on the list have sued to keep their mascots and others are in the process of fighting to retain their names.

News media contact: Kathy L. Gilbert, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or

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