Lawmakers Threaten NFL’s Tax-Exempt Status Over ‘Redskins’ Name

“The National Football League is on the wrong side of history,” write two lawmakers.

Customers win a signed football during a raffle during the Xbox One Gaming Tournament at the Microsoft store at Tyson's Corner on November 23, 2013 in Tysons Corner, Virginia.
National Journal
Elahe Izadi
See more stories about...
Elahe Izadi
Feb. 10, 2014, 5:35 a.m.

Some mem­bers of Con­gress have long been un­happy with the name of Wash­ing­ton’s foot­ball team, the Red­skins. But in a new let­ter to NFL Com­mis­sion­er Ro­ger Goodell about the team name, Sen. Maria Can­t­well and Rep. Tom Cole bring up an as­pect of the league that Con­gress may be able to af­fect: its tax-ex­empt status.

“The Na­tion­al Foot­ball League is on the wrong side of his­tory. It is not ap­pro­pri­ate for this mult­i­bil­lion-dol­lar 501(c)(6) tax-ex­empt or­gan­iz­a­tion to per­petu­ate and profit from the con­tin­ued de­grad­a­tion of tribes and In­di­an people,” the law­makers write in a let­ter dated Monday. “It is time for the Na­tion­al Foot­ball League to form­ally sup­port and push for a name change for the Wash­ing­ton foot­ball team.”

Can­t­well, a Wash­ing­ton state Demo­crat, chairs the Sen­ate In­di­an Af­fairs Com­mit­tee. Cole, an Ok­lahoma Re­pub­lic­an and only one of two Nat­ive Amer­ic­an mem­bers of Con­gress, sits on the House Ap­pro­pri­ations Com­mit­tee.

The two law­makers write that “Red­skins” is “derog­at­ory slang,” de­term­ined as such by the Pat­ent and Trade­mark Of­fice. “The NFL can no longer ig­nore this and per­petu­ate the use of this name as any­thing but what it is: a ra­cial slur,” they write.

No hear­ings have been sched­uled on the mat­ter.

Now, Goodell has said re­cently the league is “listen­ing” and “be­ing re­spect­ful” to those who op­pose the name. But he also said the team “honored” Nat­ive Amer­ic­ans. And team own­er Dan Snyder has been adam­ant against a name change. In fact, the team is ex­pec­ted to launch today “Com­munity Voices,” to show­case sup­port from Nat­ive Amer­ic­ans for the team name.

In a state­ment, Red­skins spokes­man Tony Wyl­lie shot back at Can­t­well and Cole, say­ing, “With all the im­port­ant is­sues Con­gress has to deal with such as a war in Afgh­anistan to de­fi­cits to health care, don’t they have more im­port­ant is­sues to worry about than a foot­ball team’s name? And giv­en the fact that the name of Ok­lahoma means ‘Red People’ in Choctaw, this re­quest is a little iron­ic.”

The law­makers’ lettter reads:

Dear Com­mis­sion­er Goodell:

We are writ­ing to ex­press our dis­ap­point­ment with the Na­tion­al Foot­ball League’s stance on the name of the Wash­ing­ton foot­ball team. We also wish to re­gister our ob­jec­tions to your pre-Su­per Bowl press con­fer­ence on Janu­ary 31, 2014, at which you de­fen­ded the Wash­ing­ton team name as an “hon­or” to Nat­ive Amer­ic­ans. It is, in fact, an in­sult to Nat­ive Amer­ic­ans. We are call­ing on you and the NFL to take a form­al po­s­i­tion in sup­port of a name change.

You have met with lead­ers of the Na­tion­al Con­gress of Amer­ic­an In­di­ans, an or­gan­iz­a­tion that rep­res­ents more than 250 tribes and mil­lions of Nat­ive Amer­ic­ans. They ag­gress­ively sup­port a name change as they find the Wash­ing­ton foot­ball name to be ra­cially of­fens­ive. (ht­tp://www.ncai.org/re­sources/res­ol­u­tions/com­mend­ing-ef­forts-to-elim­in­ate-ra­cist-ste­reo­types-in-sports-and-call­ing-on-the-u-s-pres­id­ent-and-con­gress-to-com­bat-these-con­tinu­ing-af­fronts-to-nat­ive-peoples).

For you to pre­tend that the name is de­fens­ible based on dec­ade-old pub­lic opin­ion polling flies in the face of our con­sti­tu­tion­ally pro­tec­ted gov­ern­ment-to-gov­ern­ment re­la­tion­ship with tribes.

The Na­tion­al Con­gress of Amer­ic­an In­di­ans rep­res­ents tri­bal gov­ern­ments that ful­fill the gov­ern­ment-to-gov­ern­ment re­la­tion­ship with the United States gov­ern­ment. This re­la­tion­ship is pro­tec­ted in our Con­sti­tu­tion. Say­ing the Wash­ing­ton foot­ball team “honored Nat­ive Amer­ic­ans” per­petu­ates a charade that dis­hon­ors nat­ive people and their gov­ern­ments and erodes the repu­ta­tion of the Na­tion­al Foot­ball League. We be­lieve that the fact that this term does not hon­or — but rather dis­par­ages — In­di­an people and tribes is what will and should guide fed­er­al poli­cy­makers.

The ter­min­o­logy used by the Wash­ing­ton foot­ball team has been de­term­ined to be a slur. On Decem­ber 29, 2013, the Pat­ent and Trade­mark Of­fice, the agency charged with de­term­in­ing wheth­er a word is a slur and can be pro­tec­ted in com­merce, de­term­ined that this term is a “derog­at­ory slang” term that refers to and is con­sidered of­fens­ive to Amer­ic­an In­di­ans in a case of a busi­ness ven­ture seek­ing to trade­mark the term.

In 1999, the Pat­ent and Trade­mark Of­fice re­fused to re­gister the Wash­ing­ton foot­ball team’s trade­mark be­cause the agency found the term dis­paraged In­di­an people. Neither the league nor the team should take com­fort be­hind a tech­nic­al­ity that pre­ven­ted the agency’s de­cision from be­ing en­forced. The Pat­ent and Trade­mark Of­fice is soon to act on a new case dir­ectly tied to the team’s trade­mark, brought by sev­er­al young In­di­an people.

The NFL can no longer ig­nore this and per­petu­ate the use of this name as any­thing but what it is: a ra­cial slur. It is clear that you haven’t heard the lead­ing voices of this coun­try — and not just In­di­an Coun­try. Vir­tu­ally every ma­jor civil rights or­gan­iz­a­tion in Amer­ica has spoken out in op­pos­i­tion to this name in­clud­ing the NAACP, the Anti-De­fam­a­tion League, the Rain­bow Co­ali­tion and the League of United Lat­in Amer­ic­an Cit­izens.

The Na­tion­al Foot­ball League is on the wrong side of his­tory. It is not ap­pro­pri­ate for this mult­i­bil­lion dol­lar 501(c)(6) tax-ex­empt or­gan­iz­a­tion to per­petu­ate and profit from the con­tin­ued de­grad­a­tion of tribes and In­di­an people. It is time for the Na­tion­al Foot­ball League to form­ally sup­port and push for a name change for the Wash­ing­ton foot­ball team.

Sin­cerely,

Maria Can­t­well Tom Cole

United States Sen­at­or U.S. House of Rep­res­ent­at­ives

What We're Following See More »
‘PULLING A TRUMP’
GOP Budget Chiefs Won’t Invite Administration to Testify
1 days ago
THE DETAILS

The administration will release its 2017 budget blueprint tomorrow, but the House and Senate budget committees won’t be inviting anyone from the White House to come talk about it. “The chairmen of the House and Senate Budget committees released a joint statement saying it simply wasn’t worth their time” to hear from OMB Director Shaun Donovan. Accusing the members of pulling a “Donald Trump,” White House spokesman Josh Earnest said the move “raises some questions about how confident they are about the kinds of arguments that they could make.”

Source:
A DARK CLOUD OVER TRUMP?
Snowstorm Could Impact Primary Turnout
1 days ago
THE LATEST

A snowstorm is supposed to hit New Hampshire today and “linger into Primary Tuesday.” GOP consultant Ron Kaufman said lower turnout should help candidates who have spent a lot of time in the state tending to retail politicking. Donald Trump “has acknowledged that he needs to step up his ground-game, and a heavy snowfall could depress his figures relative to more organized candidates.”

Source:
IN CASE OF EMERGENCY
A Shake-Up in the Offing in the Clinton Camp?
1 days ago
THE DETAILS

Anticipating a primary loss in New Hampshire on Tuesday, Hillary and Bill Clinton “are considering staffing and strategy changes” to their campaign. Sources tell Politico that the Clintons are likely to layer over top officials with experienced talent, rather than fire their staff en masse.

Source:
THE LAST ROUND OF NEW HAMPSHIRE POLLS
Trump Is Still Ahead, but Who’s in Second?
18 hours ago
THE LATEST

We may not be talking about New Hampshire primary polls for another three-and-a-half years, so here goes:

  • American Research Group’s tracking poll has Donald Trump in the lead with 30% support, followed by Marco Rubio and John Kasich tying for second place at 16%. On the Democratic side, Bernie Sanders leads Hillary Clinton 53%-41%.
  • The 7 News/UMass Lowell tracking poll has Trump way out front with 34%, followed by Rubio and Ted Cruz with 13% apiece. Among the Democrats, Sanders is in front 56%-40%.
  • A Gravis poll puts Trump ahead with 28%, followed by Kasich with 17% and Rubio with 15%.
IT’S ALL ABOUT SECOND PLACE
CNN Calls the Primary for Sanders and Trump
5 hours ago
THE LATEST

Well that didn’t take long. CNN has already declared Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump the winners of the New Hampshire primary, leaving the rest of the candidates to fight for the scraps. Five minutes later, the Associated Press echoed CNN’s call.

Source:
×