Senator Seeks to Strip NFL of Tax Exempt Status Over Washington Redskins Name

September 17th 2014

Alece Oxendine

Senator Maria Cantwell just announced she will introduce legislation to end the NFL's tax-exempt status because it refuses to pressure the Washington Redskins to change their team name. "“The NFL needs join the rest of America in the 21st century," Cantwell said. "We can no longer tolerate this attitude towards Native Americans."

As the Washington Post reports, "Cantwell and Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.) sent a letter in February to NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell warning that the league was endangering its tax-exempt status by refusing to take action on the team’s name." Since then, not much has changed, however in June, the U.S. Patent Office canceled the trademark on the Redskins' logo used from 1967-1990 citing that the term Redskins is "disparaging to Native Americans." Leading the latest debate on changing the name is Ray Halbritter of the Oneida Indian Nation. He states that Redskins is "a dictionary-defined offensive term...Washington's team name is a painful epitaph that was used against my people, Indian people, when we were held at gunpoint and thrown off our lands." 

Proponents of the Redskins name argue that not all Native Americans agree its offensive, but this tactic to show a divided community has been used many times before. One example is the National Organization for Marriage pitting LGBT Americans against Latino-Americans and African-Americans to discredit efforts for social equality. As one National Organization for Marriage document read: "The strategic goal of this project is to drive a wedge between gays and blacks—two key Democratic constituencies. Find, equip, energize and connect African American spokespeople for marriage, develop a media campaign around their objections to gay marriage as a civil right; provoke the gay marriage base into responding by denouncing these spokesmen and women as bigots.” Another great example is the "women against feminism" movement, which claims that feminists are "man haters" and "lesbians." The fact that a sub-group of Native Americans might find the name inoffensive does not negate the sentiments of manyNative Americans are not monolithic and won't agree on just one thing. I don't know what culture would.

Despite popular opinion on the topic, team owner Dan Synder has commented that the name will never change. He also claimed that Redskins is meant to honor the legacy of Native Americans. Here's a better idea: Bloomberg View suggests the new name be the Washington Lumbees, after the Lumbee Tribe of North Carolina. This is befitting not only because I'm biased (my last name is an official Lumbee tribal name) but because it is a multi-cultural tribe: a true reflection of the American spirit.

Don't expect this debate to go away anytime soon. Some Native American tribes have been fighting against the usage of their stereotyped likeness for over 40 years, regardless if all Native Americans agree or disagree that it's offensive.