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NFL's tax-exempt status challenged over "Redskins" name

WASHINGTON - A U.S. senator 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.

The announcement by Democrat Maria Cantwell of Washington state was one of several initiatives presented Tuesday during a Capitol Hill news conference aimed at increasing pressure on Redskins owner Dan Snyder.

The "Change the Mascot" campaign also said it was sending a letter to the other 31 NFL team owners asking them to use their "position of authority" to end the league's "promotion of a dictionary-defined racial slur."

Some speakers linked the issue to the NFL's handling of recent incidents involving domestic violence and child abuse. Oneida Nation representative Ray Halbritter said they were symptomatic of the league's "moral arrogance."

While individual teams' revenues are taxed, the NFL as an organizing body is technically a nonprofit organization. According to its 2011 IRS filings, the NFL is a "trade association" that promotes the interests of its clubs. Trade associations typically do such things as lobby governments, help create industry standards, develop benchmarks for companies to use in measuring their own performance, and otherwise advance the interests of a given industry.

In the 1960s, professional football had its foundational wins in getting legislation passed through Congress, granting permission to act as a monopoly in return for the promise not to run games on Friday or Saturday nights that might conflict with high school or college football. At that point, "professional football leagues" was added to the requisite IRS codes, allowing the group to act as a non-profit.

Several other sports leagues -- from hockey to golf to tennis -- also enjoy tax-exempt status.

The NFL has been under repeated fire recently from the nation's capital for defending the use of the Redskins name.

The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office canceled six federal trademark registrations for the Washington Redskins, ruling that the football team's name is "disparaging to Native Americans."

In its ruling, the board cites federal trademark law that "prohibits registration of marks that may disparage persons or bring them into contempt or disrepute."

A campaign to change the name has gained momentum over the past year.

Senator Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., who is among the lawmakers who has urged the NFL for a change in the team name, said Wednesday that she was "excited" by the board's ruling.

"Finally people are recognizing that this issue can no longer be a business case for the NFL to use this patent," Cantwell said. "This is not the end of this case, but this is a landmark decision by the patent office."

Redskins debate: Sen. Reid says it's time for team to change its name

In June, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said he won't attend a Redskins home game until the football team changes its name.

In a letter to the team's president, Reid called the Redskins name a racial slur that disparages the American people. The Nevada Democrat, who said he represents 27 tribes in his state, rejected Bruce Allen's invitation to a Redskins home game until the team does the right thing and changes its name.

In May, half of the Senate wrote letters to the NFL urging a change in the team's name. Redskins owner Daniel Snyder has vowed never to change the name.

Allen had written to Reid saying the football team's nickname is "respectful" toward Native Americans.

"Daniel Snyder may be the last person in the world to realize this, but it's just a matter of time until he is forced to do the right thing and change the name," Reid said Wednesday after the ruling.

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