Senator ties NFL tax status to Redskins name

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NFL Might Lose Tax Exempt Status Over Redskins Name


By Joseph White
AP Sports writer

WASHINGTON (AP) -- A U.S. senator threatened the NFL with legislation over Washington's nickname, a letter was dispatched to the other 31 team owners, and the issue was linked to the league's others recent troubles Tuesday as the anti-"Redskins" movement took its cause to Capitol Hill.

In a news conference that featured Native American, civil rights and religious leaders, Sen. Maria Cantwell took aim at the NFL's pocketbook by announcing she will introduce a bill to strip the league's tax-exempt status because it has not taken action over the Redskins name. While prospects for such a bill becoming law would be tenuous, the inevitable hearings before lawmakers would enhance the spotlight on a movement that has gained substantial momentum over the last two years.

"The NFL needs to join the rest of America in the 21st Century," said Cantwell, D-Wash., the former chairwoman of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee. "We can no longer tolerate this attitude toward Native Americans. This is not about team tradition. This is about right and wrong."

Overall, the message from the "Change the Mascot" leaders was that they don't plan to go away, despite Redskins owner Dan Snyder's vow not to change the name. They presented a letter that will be sent to every NFL owner except Snyder, asking each to use his "position of authority" to end the league's "promotion of a dictionary-defined racial slur."

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Senator ties NFL tax status to Redskins name
US Senator Maria Cantwell, D-Washington, speaks about the 'Change the Mascot' campaign during a press conference with Oneida Indian Nation leaders on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, September 16, 2014. 'Change the Mascot' is a national campaign to end the use of the racial slur Redskins as the mascot and name of the NFL team in Washington, DC. Launched by the Oneida Indian Nation, the campaign calls upon the NFL and Commissioner Roger Goodell to do the right thing and bring an end the use of the racial epithet. AFP PHOTO / Saul LOEB (Photo credit should read SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - SEPTEMBER 16: U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-WA) (3rd L) speaks as Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC) (L), and National Congress of American Indians (NCAI) President Brian Cladoosby (5th L) listen during a news conference September 16, 2014 on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. The group Change the Mascot held a news conference to announce new initiatives for the 2014-2015 NFL season to change the name of the Washington football team the Redskins. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
US Senator Maria Cantwell, D-Washington, stands alongside Oneida Indian Nation leaders during a 'Change the Mascot' campaign press conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, September 16, 2014. 'Change the Mascot' is a national campaign to end the use of the racial slur Redskins as the mascot and name of the NFL team in Washington, DC. Launched by the Oneida Indian Nation, the campaign calls upon the NFL and Commissioner Roger Goodell to do the right thing and bring an end the use of the racial epithet. AFP PHOTO / Saul LOEB (Photo credit should read SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - SEPTEMBER 16: U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-WA) (L) and National Congress of American Indians (NCAI) President Brian Cladoosby (R) listen during a news conference September 16, 2014 on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. The group Change the Mascot held a news conference to announce new initiatives for the 2014-2015 NFL season to change the name of the Washington football team the Redskins. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - SEPTEMBER 16: U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-WA) (2nd L) and Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC) (L) share a moment during a news conference September 16, 2014 on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. The group Change the Mascot held a news conference to announce new initiatives for the 2014-2015 NFL season to change the name of the Washington football team the Redskins. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
UNITED STATES - SEPTEMBER 16: Amy Sparck Dobmeier of the Alaskan Qissunamuit Tribe, gets a hug from Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., during a news conference in Dirksen Building with members of Congress and Tribal leaders call on the Washington Redskins to change the name of the team, September 16, 2014. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
UNITED STATES - SEPTEMBER 16: From left, Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., Andy Ebona, Rep. Betty McCollum, D-Minn., Amy Sparck Dobmeier of the Alaskan Qissunamuit Tribe, and Tara Houska, attend a news conference in Dirksen Building with members of Congress and Native American leaders call on the Washington Redskins to change the name of the team, September 16, 2014. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
WASHINGTON, DC - SEPTEMBER 16: NCAI Executive Director Jacqueline Pata (L), U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-WA) (3rd L), U.S. Rep. Betty McCollum (D-MN) (3rd R), National Congress of American Indians (NCAI) President Brian Cladoosby (2nd R) and Amy Sparck Dobmeier of Qissunamiut Tribe in Alaska, hold hands in solidarity during a news conference September 16, 2014 on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. The group Change the Mascot held a news conference to announce new initiatives for the 2014-2015 NFL season to change the name of the Washington football team the Redskins. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
District of Columbia Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton, center left, and Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., center right, is applauded as they join native Americans and other lawmakers and civil rights leaders to pressure the Washington Redskins football team to change their name during a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, Sept. 16, 2014. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)
Rep. Betty McCollum, D-Minn., from front left to right, Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton, D-D.C., and Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., join Native Americans demanding The Washington Redskins football team change their name, during a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, Sept. 16, 2014. Cantell says she will introduce a bill to eliminate the NFL's tax-exempt status because the league has not taken action over the Washington Redskins name. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)
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Oneida Nation representative Ray Halbritter said he hoped an owner will take a bold position against the name. He cited Brooklyn Dodgers executive Branch Rickey, who integrated major league baseball by signing Jackie Robinson, and longtime Washington Wizards owner Abe Pollin, who changed his NBA's team from Bullets because of the violence associated with the term.

"We're looking for the Branch Rickey, looking for Abe Pollin," Halbritter said. "They're out there. We know the owners don't share in this, but they share in the profits."

Halbritter had harsh words for the league as a whole, referencing the NFL's handling of health problems suffered by former players, as well as the recent Ray Rice domestic violence saga and the child abuse charge levied against Adrian Peterson.

"The NFL is currently facing an integrity crisis. ... While these are different issues, they are joined by a common thread of showing commercial and moral arrogance and a blatant lack of respect for those being negatively impacted," Halbritter said.

The NFL did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Earlier Tuesday, the league announced that it has hired a former White House official to help the league with legislative issues. Cynthia Hogan will be the league's senior vice president of public policy and government affairs and will be based in Washington.

Redskins spokesman Tony Wyllie responded to Cantwell's proposed legislation by citing a poll in the team's favor.

"Our position remains consistent with more than 80 percent of Americans who do not want to change the Washington Redskins name," Wyllie said.

The debate over the name could influence the Redskins' plans to build a new stadium when their lease at FedEx Field, located in D.C.'s Maryland suburbs, expires in 2027. Eleanor Holmes Norton, the district's delegate to Congress, said the team would have a hard time moving back to the city unless the name is changed.

"I would make every effort in the Congress to make sure they could not come back with that name," Norton said.

Snyder has said that the Redskins name and logo is meant to honor Native Americans, and the team has promoted American Indians who say they aren't offended by the name or by the use of the term "redskin" in general.

Rep. Betty McCollum, D-Minn., offered a counterargument by displaying an 1863 newspaper front page that included the sentence: "The state reward for dead Indians has been increased to $200 for every red-skin sent to Purgatory."

"It can only be money that motivates the NFL with a slur that harkens back to the darkest days, when a white man could get paid for hunting down and murdering an Indian in cold blood for money," McCollum said. "This team name is a reminder of that brutal violence."

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