A GW Law School professor is looking to block the renewal of TV and radio station licenses across the nation in an effort to ban the word “Redskins” from the air.
John Banzhaf’s effort started to pick up steam last month: After filing a complaint that called the name of the Washington football team a racial slur, the chairman of the Federal Communication Commission said he agreed that the word was racist.
Banzhaf is now planning to file a legal petition in Los Angeles, which has a Native American population of more than 54,000, that would force local radio stations to ban the word.
A ban would have to happen before those broadcasters renew their licenses Dec. 1. It will mark the second complaint he has filed in two months alleging that the controversial name is a racial slur.
“Just because it happens to be a name of a team, it doesn’t fly, and the admonition of using racially offensive words is tremendously strong,” Banzhaf said.
Banzhaf said he’s set his sights on Los Angeles because it will be five years before D.C. stations’ licenses are up for renewal. Once the complaint is filed, the Federal Communications Commission will have to conduct a hearing – delaying the license renewals and potentially limiting a station’s ability to broadcast on a specific radio frequency.
“Once the FCC speaks out forcefully, other stations will know that it’s easier for broadcasters not to use the term on-air than hiring expensive lawyers,” Banzhaf said.
Banzhaf has called for the FCC to ban the word, which he says violates the organization’s rules against profanity and hate speech. Last month, FCC chairman Tom Wheeler said he does not use the word. “I think it is offensive and derogatory,” he said.
Banzhaf has attracted national attention since he filed his first complaint last month against WWXX-FM, a Virginia-based radio station. The station is owned by billionaire Dan Snyder, who is also the majority owner of the Redskins football team. Snyder has not responded to Banzhaf’s statements.
Banzhaf said he is “not expecting anything to happen in that case.” He said the FCC is “moving slowly” on the complaint and will “take months” before asking for a response from the station, which will have 60 days to do so.
Last week, Banzhaf appeared on MSNBC and CNN. He has also been cited in articles by the National Journal, International Business Times and Washington Post, and the controversy was featured on “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart” last month.
“Things have been changed,” Banzhaf said. “[Snyder] keeps hiding behind the First Amendment, but the First Amendment does not give protection for fighting words. Fighting words are designed to provoke someone.”
The controversy over the franchise’s name has heightened since the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office canceled the team’s trademark registration this summer. In August, the Post’s editorial board announced that it would stop referring to the team by its name.