Former FCC Officials Seek Redskin Name Change

Updated 12 p.m. ET

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 Washington Post
on Friday saying 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 B&C
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 said that if broadcasters stopped using the name in their next football broadcasts, "it 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 VP 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 medium, 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 an obscenity, which is
illegal on the airwaves in any form, rather than simply indecency, which is
restricted to certain times of day, though Hundt told B&C 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 promote the public interest. Similarly, 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
and broadband plan architect Blair Levin, David Honig of the Minority Media and
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.

John Eggerton

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.