- - Monday, November 17, 2014

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Congressional Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, who represents the District of Columbia, has introduced a bill (H.R. 5690) that would deny federal tax-exempt status to any professional sports league that promotes the use of the term “Redskins.” Only one league and one franchise obviously meets that criterion — the NFL's Washington Redskins — and the team plays its home games in Maryland, not the District of Columbia.

She can participate in debates in the House of Representatives, but she cannot cast votes on proposed bills for equally obvious reasons. The District of Columbia is not a state and, therefore, was not party to the constitutional agreement among the original 13 colonies that established our federal system of government in 1787.

The governmental affairs of D.C. have ever since been overseen by a standing congressional committee, which, to be blunt, is not the most sought-after committee assignment for the representatives to the House elected by the voters of the 50 states.

Why, might you ask, is Mrs. Norton trying to make the nickname of Washington’s NFL team a matter of federal concern? As I and many other commentators have written over the past year or so, “Redskins” was adopted long ago as a nickname intended to honor the memory of the head coach’s mother, who was a member of the Sioux nation. More recently, though, a cadre of Oneida Indians have charged that “Redskins” is offensive to them and other American Indians and used their offense in an attempt to force the current owner of Washington’s NFL franchise to change its nickname to something less distasteful to them personally.

The obvious policy to follow is to allow the fans of the Washington Redskins to determine the nickname’s fate. If enough of them truly are offended, the market will determine its fate. Fewer ticket sales and viewers of live game broadcasts would have more influence on the team’s owner and on the NFL itself than the opinion of one non-voting delegate to the U.S. House of Representatives, especially if she represents only a minority, politically correct point of view.

Members of Congress have threatened to introduce bills denying exemption from the antitrust laws when the owners of professional sports teams, most often in the case of teams affiliated with Major League Baseball, decide to move their franchises to another city. Congress has no business becoming involved in such decisions — and congressional opposition never has prevented such moves.

Mrs. Norton seems to be trolling for votes and campaign contributions from the D.C. electorate and others who share her calculated umbrage at anyone who roots for Robert Griffin III and hopes that he can help return the Redskins to on-field glories of the past. At the end of the day, the team’s nickname is a private matter for its owner and the National Football League, and not one that rises to the level of the U.S. Congress.

William F. Shughart II, research director and senior fellow of the Independent Institute, is J. Fish Smith Professor in Public Choice at Utah State University’s Huntsman School of Business.

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