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Supreme Court refuses suit over ‘Redskins’

Homer Noley of Wilburton, Okla., joins other United Methodists in protesting the
use of Native American mascots outside a Cleveland Indians baseball game in
May 2000. The church has said the team’s mascot, “Chief Wahoo,” demeans
and diminishes Native Americans. A UMNS file photo by Paul Jeffrey.

By Kathy L. Gilbert*
Nov. 16, 2009 | WASHINGTON (UMNS)

United Methodist leaders are disappointed the U.S. Supreme Court rejected an appeal challenging the National Football League’s use of the mascot and term “Redskins.”

But they have vowed to continue the church’s struggle opposing team names and symbols that demean and offend Native Americans.

“This is a very disappointing development, but we stand with Native Americans, especially Native American children, across the country who are continually confronted by racially offensive sports mascots,” said Jim Winkler, top executive of the United Methodist Board of Church and Society. “We oppose any and all uses of racial sports mascots as contrary to The United Methodist Church’s position condemning racism and recognizing it as a sin."

The court Nov. 16 without comment let stand a federal appeals court decision that the 1992 lawsuit brought by Suzan Shown Harjo and six other Native American activists should have come years sooner since the team registered the trademark in 1967. The activists challenged the trademark as disparaging and offensive.

“I find it very ironic that the crucial concept within this particular legal decision is time,” said the Rev. Anita Phillips, executive director of the United Methodist Native American Comprehensive Plan. “Because too much time has passed, the term ‘redskin’ will be the perpetual name by which millions of Americans will know all indigenous human beings in this country from over 500 nations and tribes.”

The United Methodist Church has denounced the continued use of Native American names as nicknames for sport teams as “racist and dehumanizing,” according to the 2008 Book of Resolutions.

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The General Conference, the top lawmaking body of the denomination, calls all United Methodist Church-related organizations and institutions to be aware of and avoid holding events and meetings in locations that sponsor sports teams using Native American names and symbols.

United Methodist schools are asked to set an example by replacing any nicknames of sports teams that demean and offend Native Americans.

The United Methodist Board of Church and Society supported the petition to have the case reviewed, Winkler said.

“A professional sports team ought to model, rather than be an obstacle to, racial sensitivity,” Winkler said. “We regret that a lengthy legal case was necessary to call this to the attention of the Washington Redskin ownership. In the interest of the common good, we call upon Dan Snyder, the owner of the Washington Redskins, to recognize the pain the harmful name perpetuates upon Native Americans and change the name of the Washington team.”

Phillips said this is not the last word on the mascot issue.

“Many colleges, including several United Methodist schools, have evaluated and renamed their team mascots out of respect for their native brothers and sisters,” Phillips said. “The Supreme Court's decision will not stop the walk toward justice of Native American peoples and those who walk with us. It simply delineates the inadequacy of governmental entities to truly address the change of heart and soul needed to bring about the mighty waters of justice and righteousness.”

*Gilbert is a news writer for United Methodist News Service in Nashville, Tenn.

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

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