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No government fines for saying “Redskins” on-air

No government fines for saying “Redskins” on-air

Officially NOT offensive…for now.

First, they came for the team’s trademark protection, and everyone spoke up because we are a nation who loves football.

Then, they came for the media’s right to say the team name on-air, and we all spoke up because we are, again, a nation who loves football—and hates it when politics interferes with our enjoyment of it.

Yesterday the Federal Communications Commission rejected a petition challenging the legality of using the Washington Redskins team name name in on-air broadcasts. From the National Journal:

The author of the petition, George Washington law professor John Banzhaf III, argued that the “derogatory racial and ethnic slur” is deeply offensive to American Indians. The word amounts to obscenity and profanity, which the FCC bans from the airwaves, Banzhaf said.

Banzhaf’s petition had asked the commission to reject the license renewal of WWXX-FM, a radio station owned by Redskins owner Daniel Snyder that had repeatedly said the team’s name on the air. Instead, the FCC renewed the license, saying it found “no serious violations.”

But in an interview, Banzhaf said he expected the defeat and that it’s really just “round one” of the fight. He is asking the FCC to reverse past decisions, so he didn’t expect the Media Bureau to side with him, the law professor said. He plans to appeal the decision to the full commission and, if necessary, to the federal courts.

I’m sure he will appeal, and I’m nearly equally sure his arguments against use of the “Redskins” name will continue to fall apart. The FCC’s ruling is comprehensive, thorough, and based in both FCC and Supreme Court case history.

Banzhaf’s petition cited three concerns with the “Redskins” name—that its use violated rules governing obscenity, profanity, and the protection of public interest, convenience, and necessity—and failed to persuade the FCC on any of those points. He misused the legal definition of “obscenity,” so that point was thrown out immediately. His allegations that the brand name amounted to profanity was rejected on First Amendment grounds:

Due to “the sensitive First Amendment implications in this area,” the Commission limited its regulation of profane language to “the universe of words that are sexual or excretory in nature or are derived from such terms.” However, even that limited definition was invalidated by the Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit. Banzhaf argues that the word “Redskins” constitutes profanity. He does not allege, however, that the word is sexual or excretory in nature or derived from terms that are. Instead, he asserts that the word “Redskins” is racially derogatory. While the Commission has “recognize[d] that additional words, such as language conveying racial or religious epithets, are considered offensive by most Americans,” it made clear its intent “to avoid extending the bounds of profanity to reach such language given constitutional considerations.”

Banzhaf’s public interest argument was rejected on similar grounds.

I’m sure we haven’t seen the last of these sorts of attacks on free expression, but it’s nice to see the FCC reject the petition, and use the power of the First Amendment to do it.

The ‘Skins are still battling for the right to protect their trademark, but any win on the part of free expression is a win indeed.

You can read the full decision here.


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I actually missed the results of surveys of Native Americans that show how many object to the name “Redskins.” Does anyone know the results?

May I suggest a compromise…. “Redskins” is eliminated as a football team name and in return all American Indian names for towns, cities, states, rivers, lakes, etc be stricken from the vocabulary. Personally, with more Indian blood than Liz Warren ever could hope for, I see this lawyer as thinking with forked brain. If we go back in history, the “great white hunter” of African fame was called that to differentiate him from the “great black hunter” that was his cohort.

    Alaskabob. Your suggestion is mean spirited and fails to take into account the value of Indian associated names when matched to the current nature of the federal government. All names should be trademarked and the trademarks transferred to the Bureau of Indian Affairs newly created Department for sharing Indian Names Trademark Fees. Each user will be assessed a trademark use fee, and the fees will be split 50/50 between the government and those Indian type people registered by the Department as being worthy of receiving 50% of the trademark fees.

      alaskabob in reply to davod. | December 19, 2014 at 10:17 pm

      Alas, I am not worthy to receive such glorious benefits that will be bestowed since I have shown only a callous attitude and lack of true sensitivity to the suffering of my fellow blood brothers. Such a failure on my account must lead to the burning of the hatchet for I will war no more. (Mind you back when prime field hand slaves were worth $1000 in 1850’s money, American Indians and the Irish were “worth” nothing.) Thank you for seeing the perpetual error of my ways.

Neither “redskin” nor “white eyes” were ever a term of prejudice, but reflected a physiological reference to substitute for a tribal identification or proper name. I think the social complex has developed a complex with a peculiar affinity for capital and control.

It’s difficult to be glad the Redskins won, but I am.

I have nothing against the Redskins themselves but their fans are aggressively obnoxious and annoying and their mothers dress them funny.

Yup. America is now officially a work of Kafka.

I think it might be a good idea for the agencies to countersue for being forced to expend attorney fees on a stupid notion.