Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC) on Wednesday introduced legislation that would threaten the NFL’s tax-exempt status if it continues to promote the name of Washington’s football team. The legislation is the House of Representatives version of the bill Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-WA) introduced in the Senate in September.
“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,’” Holmes Norton said on the House floor. “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 NFL is classified as a nonprofit 501(c)(6) organization, a status that some other professional sports leagues share and that has drawn scrutiny from federal lawmakers in the past. Attention on the tax status has increased in the last year after Cantwell and Rep. Tom Cole (R-OK), a co-chair of the Congressional Native American Caucus, first said in a letter to NFL commissioner Roger Goodell that it could be threatened if the league doesn’t take action against Washington’s team name.
Holmes Norton has long opposed use of the name, a popular position among D.C. lawmakers. The D.C. City Council last year passed a resolution condemning the name. Holmes Norton in September was among the lawmakers at a Capitol Hill press conference that featured Native American activists and tribal leaders calling on the team to change its name. It was at that press conference that Cantwell first announced her legislation.
Holmes Norton and Cantwell’s legislation has little chance of advancing through Congress any time soon, whether in the lame duck session that started this week or once the House and Senate return for a new Congress in January. But protests and radio advertisements against the name have become regular features of Washington’s road games over the past two seasons, and the bills, despite their bleak prospects for passage, are indicative of the fact that pressure on the team, the NFL, and Goodell, who has defended the name as a symbol of “strength, courage, pride, and respect,” will continue from inside the government.
Those efforts have seemingly drawn the attention of both the NFL and the team. Representatives from both met with Cantwell and Native American organizations to discuss the name earlier this year; meanwhile, Washington hired a lobbying firm in June and launched a new web site that, according to Slate, appeared to be designed by a prominent D.C. strategic communications firm. And as ThinkProgress has reported, it has enlisted the help of prominent Washington political consultants to help craft a strategy defending the name.