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Lawmakers threaten NFL's tax-exempt status over Redskins team name

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In a strongly-written letter to NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, two lawmakers -- Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., chairwoman of the Indian Affairs Committee, and Rep. Tom Cole, R-Okla., member of the Native American Caucus -- indicated the league's tax-exempt status could be on the line if the Washington Redskins does not change its name, the New York Times reported Sunday.

“The National Football League is on the wrong side of history,” the lawmakers wrote. “It is not appropriate for this multibillion-dollar 501(c)(6) tax-exempt organization to perpetuate and profit from the continued degradation of tribes and Indian people.”

Cantwell reiterated the threat Sunday, saying lawmakers would “definitely” examine the NFL's tax-exempt status as a way to pressure the league into caving.

“You’re getting a tax break for educational purposes, but you’re still embracing a name that people see as a slur and encouraging it,” she said.

The letter also says the Patent and Trademark Office recently said the term “redskin” was a “derogatory slang term.”

But the team has held the name for some 80 years.

“Let me remind you, this is the name of a football team, a football team that has had that name for 80 years and has presented the name in a way that has honored Native Americans,” Goodell said.

A spokesman for the Redskins also took issue with the threatening letter.

“With all the important issues Congress has to deal with, such as a war in Afghanistan to deficits to health care, don’t they have more important issues to worry about than a football team’s name?” spokesman Tony Wyllie said in an email. “And given the fact that the name of Oklahoma means ‘red people’ in Choctaw, this request is a little ironic.”

In May, the Times said, ten lawmakers sent a similar letter to Goodell after proposing a bill that that would require the Patent and Trademark Office director to cancel any registration that used the term “redskin” for commercial purposes.

Team owner Daniel Snyder has said he will not change the team's name.

“I’ve listened carefully to the commentary and perspectives on all sides, and I respect the feelings of those who are offended by the team name,” he said in a letter to fans. “But I hope such individuals also try to respect what the name means, not only for all of us in the extended Washington Redskins family, but among Native Americans too.”

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