Why the Fight Over Washington NFL Team’s Name May Affect LA Stations

By Kevin Eck 

LA_wikipediaVariety reports FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler recently told reporters he is considering a petition to sanction broadcast stations who use the term Redskins when referring to the Washington, D.C. NFL team.

The FCC is getting in on the fight after George Washington law professor John Banzhaf filed a petition with the commission to pull the license of the radio station owned by the same man who owns the NFL team.

Now it looks like the naming battle may come to the West Coast after Banzhaf revealed he intends to challenge the license renewals of the Los Angeles ABC, CBS, NBC and FOX owned stations because they use the name during broadcasts.


Banzhaf told The Hollywood Reporter he will target markets with large Native American populations like Oklahoma, South Dakota and North Dakota, but said one of the reasons he chose Los Angeles first was because the station licenses are up for renewal on December 1.

Banzhaf is in talks with several Indian groups (he would not name names) about supporting his effort. He can’t personally petition an L.A. station. It has to be done by a resident of the station’s viewing area.

A petition would trigger a process that would require the station to respond, after which Banzhaf’s side would also respond to that response. “The FCC moves like molasses,” said Banzhaf. “Meanwhile the stations do not have their license renewed and that may have consequences for them.”

Banzhaf told THR, “They can continue to broadcast, but they will broadcast without the certainty and financial protections and other advantages of having a license good for five years or more.”

Says Banzhaf, “What might have seemed like a minor distraction might be something they don’t need on top of all the other stuff.”

After L.A. Banzhaf plans to go after radio and TV stations in areas with large Indian populations in states like Oklahoma, North Dakota and South Dakota that are owned by individuals or smaller companies. He will offer stations the opportunity to sign an agreement not to use Redskins — what he says the Indians call “the R-word” — but rather refer in news and sports broadcasts to the team simply as “the Washington NFL club” or another euphemism.

If stations refuse to budge, eventually there would be an FCC hearing. Banzhaf plans to seek a ruling that the name “Redskins” is obscene in this usage because it is a form of hate speech.

However, it is unclear if Banzhalf and his supporters would win in the end. Washington attorney David Solomon says there’s no precedent to declare “Redskins” obscene or hate speech.