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Congress Extends NFL Season, at Least in Washington

Is Capitol Hill becoming less welcoming to the NFL? (CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Congress has once again jumped into the National Football League controversy over the Washington Redskins' team name, with one member introducing a bill to formally declare the name a derogatory term that cannot be trademarked, and other members questioning why the league should continue as a non-profit, tax-exempt institution. Rep. Michael M. Honda, D-Calif., introduced The Non-Disparagement of Native American Persons or Peoples in Trademark Registration Act on Feb. 3. And according to Honda's office, the bill already has 26 co-sponsors, all Democrats. In addition to declaring the term, "redskins" derogatory, the bill would cancel any existing federal trademarks using the term and bar any future trademarks.  

“It is unbelievable to me that, in the 21st century, a prominent NFL franchise is calling itself by a racial slur,” Honda said in a statement. “Team names should not be offensive to anyone. Allowing trademark protection of this word is akin to the government approving its use. Removing that trademark will send a clear message that this name is not acceptable.”  

In a release announcing the bill, Honda acknowledged the ongoing lawsuit over the Redskins trademark. Five Native Americans filed a lawsuit against Pro-Football, Inc., in 2006 to cancel the team name trademark, citing the Lanham Act, which permits cancellation of a trademark that is deemed disparaging. The Justice Department intervened in the lawsuit in January to defend the constitutionality of the Lanham Act.

As the lawsuit continues, Congress will also consider the issue with Honda's bill. The bill was also introduced in the 113th Congress by American Samoa Del. Eni F. H. Faleomavaega, a Democrat. Faleomavaega lost his re-election bid to Republican Aumua Amata Coleman Radewagen in November. In the 113th Congress, the bill garnered 24 co-sponsors, including one Republican, Rep. Tom Cole, R-Okla. Cole has not signed on to the most recent bill.

But one co-sponsor who once again signed onto the bill is Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton, D-D.C., who represents the team's fan base in the District of Columbia.  

“The FCC has an obligation to protect the public from offensive content on the air, and the Washington Football team’s mascot was found to be an ethnic  slur by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office," Norton said in a statement to CQ Roll Call. "Does the FCC consider ethnic slurs for Blacks, Jews, and Hispanics, for example, to be offensive and unfit to air? If so, treating Native people differently is itself discrimination.”  

In the 113th Congress, Norton introduced a bill to eliminate the NFL's tax-exempt status, arguing that the NFL benefits from use of a "racial slur." The bill was also introduced in the Senate, and was part of congressional backlash against the NFL over the Washington team's name and reports of domestic violence perpetrated by NFL players.  

Late last month, House Oversight and Government Reform Chairman Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, told Fox News' Greta Van Susteren he didn't think the NFL should continue to have non-profit status while its teams rake in profits and its commissioner makes millions of dollars a year in compensation. "It's wrong. It is absolutely wrong. It doesn't pass the basic sniff test," he said.  

Related: Congress Playing Tough With the NFL (Video) Norton Introduces Bill to Eliminate NFL Tax-Exempt Status Critics of Washington Team Name Target NFL Nonprofit Status (Video) The 114th: CQ Roll Call's Guide to the New Congress Get breaking news alerts and more from Roll Call in your inbox or on your iPhone.