Federal Communications Commission Chairman Tim Wheeler said at a press conference this week that the commission’s boardwould consider a petition calling on the FCC to prohibit stations from airing the word “Redskins” on broadcasts under its authority to regulate profane language, opening another front in the fight against the name of Washington’s professional football team that activists want to change.
If the FCC moves to regulate “Redskins,” it would be another blow against it from the federal government, after the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office’s Trials and Trademark Board invalidated six of the team’s federal trademark protections on grounds that the name is “disparaging to Native Americans” (the team is currently appealing that decision). Wheeler’s remarks came in response to a complaint filed by George Washington University law professor John Banzhaf, a public interest lawyer who said he filed the petition because he does not think racial slurs should be permitted on air.
Banzhaf filed his complaint against the Washington-area radio station, WWXX-FM, that Snyder owns because he says it uses the word “unnecessarily and repeatedly” hundreds of times each day. The complaint targets the renewal of the station’s federal broadcast license and could tie up the process of renewing the license for months, Banzhaf said. His ultimate aim is clear: he wants the name to change, and he sees removing it from radio and television broadcasts as a viable way to force Washington owner Daniel Snyder, who insists that he will “NEVER” drop the name, to do it.
“At this point, I think everyone has realized that moral persuasion isn’t going to work on Mr. Snyder, so it’s going to be economic pressure,” Banzhaf said in a phone interview this week. If the FCC were to tell stations they cannot use the name, it could further advance an organic movement away from it that has already begun: before this NFL season, CBS, NBC, Fox, and ESPN all said they would give on-air broadcasters and analysts the option to avoid using the name, and multiple high-profile analysts have done so. An array of newspapers and other publications have also decided to stop using it.