D.C. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton introduced legislation today that would prohibit sports leagues from having tax-exempt status if they benefit from the Washington football team’s offensive name—-a-not-so-subtle nudge that she wants the NFL to push team owner Dan Snyder to change the team name. This is the House companion legislation to a similar bill that Democratic Washington state Sen. Maria Cantwell introduced in the Senate back in September.

“Continued use of the current team name and mascot is not only inconsistent with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office decision, but what’s even worse is that U.S. taxpayers must bear the burden of subsidizing a multibillion-dollar industry and its use of a racial slur for profit,” Norton said in a release.

Despite support for a name change from President Barack Obama and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid—-who won’t be majority leader for much longer—-the legislation stands a slim chance of passage in a Republican-controlled House and Senate. Democrats, like Virginia Sen. Mark Warner, have said they don’t believe it’s Congress’ job to tell the NFL what to do.

Here is the text of Norton’s speech introducing the bill on the House floor today:

Ms. Norton. Mr. Speaker. Today, I introduce a bill that would amend section 501 of the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 to prohibit tax-exempt status to professional sports leagues that promote or allow a member club or franchise connected to that league to promote the use of the term “Redskins.”  Senator Maria Cantwell has introduced the same bill in the Senate.

Currently, the National Football League (NFL) is a not-for-profit 501(c)(6) “business league” organization that receives tax-exempt status.  It is the nation’s largest sports franchise, generating almost $10 billion annually.  Unlike some of its counterparts—the National Basketball Association and Major League Baseball, for example—it operates as a nonprofit, which allows for its profits to trickle down to its 32 teams, including the Washington football team.

Over 300 tribes and two million Native Americans, as well as religious and human rights organizations, have called on NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell and Daniel Snyder, the Washington football team owner, to change the name of the Washington football team because the name and mascot insult native people.  In addition, several media outlets around the country no longer print or use the term “Redskins” when referring to the Washington football team because the term is offensive.

On June 18, the United States Patent and Trademark Office, in a landmark decision (Blackhorse v. Pro Football, Inc.), found the name used by the Washington football team to be disparaging to Native Americans and not deserving of trademark protection, and cancelled federal trademark protection for the “Redskins” trademarks.  While the ruling did not persuade Daniel Snyder or Roger Goodell to change the name, the ruling has the potential to affect the profits received from the sale of the team’s merchandise.

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.  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.  As an organization that enjoys tax-exempt benefits, the NFL also has a duty to American taxpayers to ensure that its teams are not promoting or benefiting from a racial slur.  This bill would revoke the tax-exempt status of professional sports leagues that choose to continue to use the offensive and derogatory term “Redskins.”

Because this bill only revokes the tax-exempt status of leagues that promote the use of the term “Redskins,” it would not affect other leagues that fall under the same 501(c)(6) tax exemption such as the Professional Golfers Association and the National Hockey League.

I urge my colleagues to support this important legislation.

Photo by Darrow Montgomery

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