The United Methodist Church has rejected Richmond for its 2012 international conference because the city’s minor league baseball team is named the Braves.
“Many Native Americans, if you ask them what they think about team mascots, will tell you that they find [them] to be demeaning,” said Stephen Drachler, a spokesman for the United Methodist Church.
Apparently, nobody asked Virginia’s Monacan Nation, located near Lynchburg about 130 miles west of Richmond.
Kenneth Branham, Monacan chief, yesterday said, “The mascot thing has been blown out of proportion.”
The problem is not that teams have American Indian names and mascots, but how those mascots act, Mr. Branham said.
“It is not so much the name as the silly way they act,” he said. “When children see that, they think that is how Indians act.”
The Richmond Braves don’t have a mascot. They have a duck — “a big, happy, yellow” one named “Diamond Duck,” Braves spokesman John Emmett said.
What’s more, the mascot for the Atlanta Braves — the Major League parent team of the Richmond Braves — is a large, talking baseball named “Homer.”
A United Methodist Church panel last week announced that holding the General Conference in Richmond would violate a 2004 resolution barring Methodist events in cities where professional sports teams use American Indian names or symbols.
When the panel met last fall to select a site for the 2012 conclave, it automatically ruled out Atlanta, because of its Braves, and Washington, D.C., because of its Redskins.
But Richmond — which is within the Virginia Conference, the church’s largest U.S. region — made the initial cut because the panel did not consider minor league teams during the selection process. A pastor from New York informed the panel of the Braves’ existence.
“However well-intended, sports teams named after Native Americans demean the heritage of native people,” says Gail Murphy-Geiss of Centennial, Colo., who headed the selection panel. “They perpetuate unhealthy and unfair stereotypes.”
“[The Braves’ name] does offend some people, but not me personally,” said Ken Adams, chief of the Upper Mattaponi Indian tribe in King William County, about 25 miles from Richmond. “It is a name I grew up with.”
Mr. Branham said he appreciates the efforts of the Methodists, though he was unaware of their actions regarding Richmond. Mascots are an important issue to some tribes in other states, he said.
“Here in Virginia, the eight tribes have more important issues than whining about mascots,” he said.