Norton Introduces Bill to Strip NFL of Its Tax-Exempt Status for Use of Washington Football Team Name

Nov 12, 2014
Press Release

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC) today introduced a bill that would amend section 501 of the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 to prohibit tax-exempt status for professional sports leagues that promote or allow a member club or franchise connected to that league to benefit from the Washington football team name, a derogatory term that has officially been found offensive.  Norton’s bill is the House companion bill to Senator Maria Cantwell’s (D-WA) bill, S. 2884.

“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.

Recently, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) chair and one other commissioner indicated that they personally opposed the team name.  Last week, Norton urged the FCC to begin its own process to prevent on-air use of the team name, particularly considering the official hearings, as well as voluminous records and findings of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO), that concluded that the name is derogatory.

In June, the USPTO canceled the Washington football team’s trademark registration, but the decision has been appealed.  Last year, Norton was one of the nine original cosponsors of H.R. 1278, the Non-Disparagement of Native American Persons or Peoples in Trademark Registration Act, which calls for the cancelation of existing trademark registrations containing the Washington football team’s name.  Norton also joined several of her colleagues in sending a letter to NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, Washington football team sponsor FedEx, Washington football team owner Dan Snyder, and the 31 other NFL franchises, urging them to support a change to the Washington football team name.

Norton’s introductory statement follows:

 

Statement of Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton on the Introduction of a bill to prohibit tax-exempt status to professional sports leagues that promote the use of the term redskins

 

November 12, 2014

 

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 benefitting 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.