A legal activist professor’s quest to convince the Federal Communications Commission to ban the NFL team name Washington “Redskins” on air by having it dubbed profanity gained steam Tuesday.
The chairman of the FCC said he will seriously consider the petition by George Washington University law professor John Banzhaf, which asks the agency to deny the renewal of a Washington Redskins-owned radio station license under the auspices that the repeated use of the word “Redskins” amounts to obscenity akin to “profanity” and a “hate crime.”
Banzhaf, a professor of public interest law, told The College Fix in an interview that the chairman’s comments represent “a very positive development” because it means a hearing will most likely be scheduled to address the petition.
“The agency would never countenance stations broadcasting words like ‘N*gga,’ ‘Sp*cks,’ ‘W*tB*cks,’ ‘F*gs,’ … even as the name of a team or a musical group,” the petition states. “If the N-word (like all the others) is impermissible because it offends many blacks, the repeated and unnecessary use of the R-word should also be because it similarly offends many Indians.”
Nevertheless, an ESPN poll taken in early September found that 71 percent of Americans think the name should not be changed, down from 89 percent in 1992.
At Tuesday’s news conference, FCC chairman Tom Wheeler said his agency will review Banzhaf’s petition and deal with the issue “on its merits” and will “respond accordingly.”
“There are a lot of names and descriptions that were used over time that are inappropriate today,” Wheeler said. “And I think the name that is attributed to the Washington football club is one of those.”
But shortly after the petition had been filed, Wheeler had said that Redskins owner Dan Snyder should “see which way things are going” and make the decision himself. Wheeler’s new statements seem to represent an about-face to his previous comments.
Banzhaf said Wheeler now seems ready to confront the issue head-on, instead of waiting for Snyder to cave to public pressure alone.
“I am increasingly optimistic that the team name will have to be changed,” he said in an interview with The College Fix. “It’s very unusual for a majority of any agency to comment in your favor on a matter which is already before them.”
He said he does not expect them to take immediate action, however.
“In terms of timing, the agency tends to move slowly and deliberately on controversial issues,” he said.
The “threat” of the FCC to delay renewal of the radio station’s license will “move the industry towards seriously addressing the issue,” he said.
Banzhaf said any type of delay will have an “adverse and perhaps coercive effect” on the radio station and the team – “hanging like a Sword of Damocles over the station,” he said.
“It’s hard to see how a team can operate if its name isn’t going to be used on the air,” he said.
A ruling against the Washington Redskins could further tarnish the team after recent developments in which The Washington Post and the New York Daily News announced they would cease the use of the team’s name in its editorials.
In addition, the University of Minnesota has been caught in its own set of controversies involving the team, because the campus is set to host an NFL game in November between the Minnesota Vikings and the Washington Redskins. The university has asked the Redskins to not display its logo or sell any of its merchandise when they visit the campus stadium next month.
College Fix reporter Andrew Desidero is a student at The George Washington University.