The term Redskins is blatant hate speech against American Indians, and broadcast stations that routinely use it on the air shouldn't have their FCC licenses renewed.
Or so argues John Banzhaf, a noted activist and professor of public interest law at the George Washington University, who earlier this month petitioned the Federal Communications Commission to deny renewal of the broadcast license for WWXX-FM (ESPN 980), a Washington-area radio station co-owned by Redskins owner Dan Snyder.
In the petition filed on Sept. 2, Banzhaf calls the word “a derogatory racial and ethnic slur contrary to the public interest,” and therefore not worthy of the public airways. He goes on to compare the word to very specific slurs used against women, gays and other ethnic groups. He argues, for instance, that any broadcaster that routinely used the N-word -- even in a team name -- wouldn't be granted an FCC license renewal.
The argument is an intriguing one and, if successful, may serve to further chip away at Snyder’s long-standing justification that the name Redskins is a time-honored tradition and therefore worthy of the same legal protections granted to any other American brand. Earlier this year, the team owner lost a key battle on that front when the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office canceled the Redskins’ trademark on the grounds that it's disparaging to Native Americans, a ruling the team is appealing.
Banzhaf is essentially petitioning the FCC on the same grounds. He cites a 1966 case in which a D.C. appellate court ordered the FCC to consider a challenge to a license renewal of a church-run station that had aired disparaging remarks against African-Americans.
The anti-Redskins effort is familiar territory for Banzhaf. As the Washington Post pointed out Wednesday, the activist/educator played a major role in scrubbing cigarette ads from broadcast airways.
Critics have long called for the renaming of the Washington team, but the campaign to change the name has gained considerable traction in the last year, with newspapers from Seattle to New York vowing to ban the word from their pages, and some NFL announcers agreeing to refer to the team as simply “Washington,” this season. Earlier this month, the e-commerce website Etsy said it would stop allowing its users to sell merchandise that featured the word Redskins or the team logo.
Given the changing tide, Banzhaf reasons, the FCC has an obligation to revise its own guidelines for deciding what constitutes profanity. “Despite whatever the origins of the word ‘R*dskins’ may be, or the original intent of the owner who first gave the team its name, the evidence is now overwhelming that the current meaning is an offensive and demeaning racial swear word, not only to many Indians, but also to others,” he wrote.
Numerous polls have found that Redskins fans are generally in favor of keeping the name, and Snyder has long contended that the word is meant to honor Native Americans.
WWXX-FM is one of seven stations owned by Snyder’s Red Zebra Broadcasting. In the petition, Banzhaf said it's “uniquely appropriate” for the FCC to deny a renewal license to the station given the frequency with which it airs the term.
Read the full petition here.