The NFL, facing multiple public relations fiascos regarding domestic violence issues, can expect some more heat coming its way from Congress as Native American groups and members from both chambers are promising a multipronged attack to pressure Washington Redskins owner Dan Snyder to change his team's name.
Native American leaders visiting Capitol Hill for a two-day tribal unity and legislative impact event rallied behind Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., and two House members during a Tuesday event in the Dirksen Senate Office Building.
Cantwell nodded solemnly as Oneida Nation representative Ray Halbritter vowed, "as the NFL [season] continues, our efforts will only intensify." Activists applauded minutes later when Cantwell announced she would introduce legislation to eliminate the league's tax-exempt status, effectively sacking some of the $10 billion it generates annually in profits. Some Republicans have pushed to amend the tax code to prohibit the NFL from enjoying the same 501(c)(6) status as nonprofit industry trade associations and public interest groups. Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., criticized the "tax earmarks" as unfair last fall, saying everyone pays more to subsidize the league.
Cantwell said her focus would be more narrow, penalizing the league only if the team continues to pursue the use of the name. She was reluctant to go into specifics about the details.
"These tribes have spoken clearly — it's time to change the name of the Washington team," Cantwell said, behind a podium taped with a "Change the Mascot" sign. "The American people have spoken as well," she continued, saying that merchandise sales are down 35 percent and praising the Patent and Trademark Office’s decision to strip the team of its trademark protection .
This summer, the congresswoman wrote Minnesota Vikings owner Zygi Wilf asking him to personally condemn the Washington franchise’s name in advance of a November matchup between Wilf and Snyder's teams on the University of Minnesota campus. McCollum mentioned the letter, and silence from Wilf, on Tuesday.
She sounded off about public financing for the football stadiums that host Washington when they are on the road, saying, "taxpayers are finding out that some of their money is paying to support the ‘R-word.'"
In addition to the legislation, the Change the Mascot campaign used the Capitol Hill event to announce other elements of its strategy. A letter has been sent to the league's team owners, requesting they initiate disciplinary action against Snyder for his continued promotion of the team name.
Snyder has repeatedly vowed never to change the name of the team.
Congress has other ways of wielding its influence, those leading the charge acknowledged.
Supporters of the football team have floated the idea of bringing a new venue to the District, potentially at the site of RFK Stadium. Because the Southeast D.C. site sits on federal land, the National Park Service would have to be party to any deal that involve the stadium.
Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton, D-D.C., has threatened to make every effort to make sure the team cannot come back to the site where it played for 36 seasons with the same name. Norton said, "We are much too progressive a city to be associated with a title that has now officially been found to be a racial slur."
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