FCC Officials Push for Broadcaster Forum on NFL 'Redskins' Name

Reed Hundt, former FCC chairman and on-the-record opponent of using the name "Redskins" for the Washington football team, was among a number of former FCC officials signed on to a letter to FCC acting Chairwoman Mignon Clyburn asking the FCC to use some muscle to get the name scrubbed.

The letter asks that she "convene an open forum with broadcasters to determine whether they should self-regulate their use of the term “XXXskins” when referring to the Washington D.C football team."

There was no one at the shut-down FCC to comment on the request.

The letter cited President Obama's comment last week that if he were the owner of the team he would "think about changing it." The actual owner, Dan Snyder, has as recently as Thursday, in a letter to fans, defended keeping the name.

Among the couple dozen signing onto the letter included former FCC commissioners and officials Tyrone Brown, Henry Geller, Jonathan Adelstein, Nicholas Johnson, and Blair Levin (a former Hundt top aide), as well as veteran media attorney Andrew Schwartzman, Minority Media & Telecommunications Counsel president David Honig, and former NTIA head Larry Irving.

The letter is reprinted in full below.

October 10, 2013

The Honorable Mignon Clyburn

Federal Communications Commission

445 12th Street, SW

Washington, DC 20554

Dear Chairwoman Clyburn and Fellow FCC Commissioners,

We respectfully ask that you convene an open forum with broadcasters to determine whether they should self-regulate their use of the term “XXXskins” when referring to the Washington D.C football team.

As you may know, momentum for this movement has been rapidly growing. The most recent ally to join the cause is President Obama, who said in an interview this Saturday, “If I were the owner of the team and I knew that there was a name of my team — even if it had a storied history — that was offending a sizeable group of people, I’d think about changing it.” Furthermore, a recent poll on the issue shows that public opinion is also shifting. 68% of a group of randomly surveyed Washingtonians said they would either encourage or not care if owner Dan Snyder were to change the team name. Also, 63% of those surveyed either would approve of broadcast TV stations not using the current name or do not care if broadcasters stop using that name. Only 37% would disapprove of broadcasters if they no longer used the name. Several media leaders, including Peter King (Sports Illustrated) and Mike Wise (Washington Post), have already recognized this shift and agreed to abandon use of the term “XXXskins.”

The image of Washington is prominent throughout this country and the world. To continue arguing that the name “XXXskin” is an honor to Native Americans requires willful ignorance, which casts enormous doubt on team leadership. It is inevitable that this will make an already difficult situation in the nation’s capital worse. As all of us have learned in international diplomacy, strength is essential to leadership and that includes moral strength. To tie this name to Washington’s football team hurts that strength.

The FCC has unquestioned authority to convene an open forum with broadcasters to discuss whether they should voluntarily stop using the name (See 47 U.S.C. §§151 and 403). We emphasize that this discussion between broadcasters and the FCC need not answer any questions of legality nor necessarily lead to regulatory intervention. Rather, the purpose of the forum should be to address the issue of self-regulation and its application to the term in question.

We believe that by capitalizing on this authority, the FCC has the opportunity to act as a principled and transparent leader during a time of distressing difficulty in the nation’s capital.

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.