Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) introduced legislation Nov. 12 that would strip the National Football League of its tax-exempt status if it continues to support the official team name of the Washington Redskins.
Norton proposed the bill after a perceived lack of action by the NFL, Federal Communications Commission and the Redskins organization on the issue. If passed, the bill will reduce the overall profits of NFL teams as long as they continue to support the “Redskins” team name. Currently, the NFL operates as a not-for-profit business league organization and is therefore tax-exempt.
“The time has come to get the attention of the NFL, which shares in the profits of our team, by hitting them in their wallet,” Norton said. “The Washington football team name is derogatory.”
Earlier this year, the U.S. Patent and Trade Office revoked the patent for the team name, saying that “Redskins” is offensive to Native Americans, prompting an appeal from team owner Dan Snyder. That case is ongoing.
Norton cited the copyright revocation decision and the complaints of Native Americans as grounds to introduce this legislation.
“Don’t just take my word,” she said. “If the word of the majority of Native Americans isn’t good enough, take the official word of the agency with jurisdiction over U.S. trademarks, the U.S. Patent and Trade Office.”
In her introduction of the bill, Norton said that the government involvement with subsidies justifies Congress’s involvement with the issue.
“American taxpayers have been subsidizing a multibillion dollar league that promotes what has now been officially found to be a racial slur for profitable gain,” she said. “Relief from taxes should no longer be given to a league that profits from the continued use of a racial slur, which degrades some Americans.”
The Redskins organization declined to comment. The NFL could not be reached for comment.
In a previous statement to The New York Times, Tony Wyllie, a Redskins team spokesperson, derided congressional action in response to a letter sent earlier this year from congressional leaders, including Norton, who urged a change in name.
“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?” Wyllie wrote in the statement.
Norton’s bill follows a similar bill introduced in the Senate by Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) and co-sponsored by Tim Johnson (D-S.D.) and Harry Reid (D-Nev.) in September. Norton’s bill has not received any co-sponsors.
Annapolis, Md., resident Madison Fisher (COL ’17) believes that the Washington football team should change its name and believes that taking away the NFL’s tax-exempt status would force it into doing so.
“The NFL is a huge moneymaking business,” she said. “I think that taking away their tax-exempt status would put pressure on them and call for some big changes.”
However, Fisher was skeptical about the legislation’s chances.
“I’m surprised Congress is getting involved,” she said. “I don’t know if that’s really their place, but … I don’t see the measure passing.”
Football fan Aditya Pande (SFS ’18) disagreed, arguing that congressional action is not warranted and that if a name change were to occur, the pressure should come from fans of the Washington football team.
“I think that this is a problem of the NFL, a private organization,” he said. “I think Congress has a lot more important things to be doing, like fixing the economy, for example.”