Led by former FCC chairman Reed Hundt, a dozen former FCC officials, activists and others have written Washington Redskins owner Dan Snyder asking him to change the name of the football team, suggesting broadcasters are breaking the law by using the name on the airwaves.
In addition to the letter, Hundt wrote an op-ed in the April 5 edition of The Washington Post, noting that the FCC "clearly has the authority to investigate whether broadcasters’ use of derogatory names to describe sports teams and players comports with the public interest."
And he would like them to use it.
Hundt told Multichannel News that his first choice would be for Snyder to change the name, but if that didn't happen, for broadcasters not to use it on-air, and for the FCC to actively investigate whether its use constitutes indecency. "The FCC chairman and commissioners ought to speak up right now. They don't have to say they have to regulate, but they ought to say what the right answer is. It's not their job to be silent."
An FCC spokesperson declined comment.
"I would rather Mr. Snyder be the leader," Hundt said. If not, he said, "broadcasters have a long history of responding positively and leading cultural change." Hundt added that if broadcasters stopped using the term in their next game coverage, the name would be changed by halftime.
Citing several examples including Jimmy "the Greek" Snyder's firing by CBS over racially stereotyped remarks about black athletes, Hundt said that "If broadcasters follow their own tradition, they will insist that Snyder no longer put them in the intolerable position of using a derogatory term to describe his team. So, too, should the FCC applaud broadcasters for pursuing the name change."
Responding to Hundt's call on broadcasters, Dennis Wharton, executive vice president of the National Association of Broadcasters, said: "We appreciate former Chairman Hundt's acknowledgement of how broadcasters have brought about positive social change. But given that the former chairman has admitted that he has always wanted to replace broadcasting with broadband as the national communications meduium, is he also encouraging all of his Silicon Valley friends never to use the term 'Redskins' as well."
In the letter, which uses three x's rather than the "Red" in Redskins, they say the term is the most derogatory name a Native American can be called and is an "unequivocal racial slur" akin to the n-word.
They liken the use of Redskin to to an obscenity, which is illegal on the airwaves in any form, rather than simply indecency that is restricted to certain times of day, though Hundt told Multichannel News he thought indecency was the category in which he would put the term. "This medium uses government-owned airwaves in exchange for an understanding that it will prmote the public interest. Similiarly, it is inappropriate for broadcasters to use racial epithets as part of normal everyday reporting... We ask you to help broadcasters and the public achieve a higher consciousness by leading the name change."
Among those also signing the letter were former Hundt aide Blair Levin, David Honig of the Minority Media & Telecommunications Council, former FCC Commissioners Jonathan Adelstein and Nicholas Johnson, Public Knowledge President Gigi Sohn and former Media Access Project head Andrew Jay Schwartzman.
There have been periodic efforts to get the Washington team to change its name, including trying to use a stick on broadcasters rather than appeal to their role as cultural thought leaders.
For instance, back in 2005, Washington attorney John Banzhaf, who helped sue tobacco ads off the airwaves in the late 1960s, was in the midst of a campaign to remove “Redskin” from the nation's broadcast vernacular--or at least limit its use--by threatening to go after station licenses in Washington.
He sent registered letters to the four biggest stations in D.C.—WJLA, WUSA, WTTG and WRC—advising them of a federal appeals court decision that he said put the Washington Redskin trademarks in jeopardy by “restoring the unanimous finding by the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board that the word 'Redskins' was so racially derogatory and offensive that the trademarks should be invalidated.”
That was the same year that the National Collegiate Athletic Association said team names like Seminoles, Indians and Braves were abusive and hostile and that it would require schools who keep those names to obscure them during any NCAA-hosted championship. The College of William & Mary was one school that dropped the Indian name and mascot, replacing it with Tribe.