U.S. FCC declines to punish radio station for use of NFL Redskins team name

Reuters News
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Posted: Dec 18, 2014 5:12 PM

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Federal Communications Commission on Thursday rejected a petition that asked regulators to punish a radio station for using on air the name of the National Football League's Washington team, Redskins, a word some consider a slur to Native Americans.

Legal activist John Banzhaf III had petitioned the agency to strip the WWXX-FM radio station, which belongs to the team's owner, Dan Snyder, of its broadcasting license for using the word "Redskins." Banzhaf said the name was racist, derogatory, profane and hateful, making its use "akin to broadcasting obscenity."

The FCC, which enforces broadcast indecency violations, said obscenity and profanity largely imply material of sexual or excretory nature. It also cited the broadcasters' freedom of speech, among other legal reasons for rejecting the petition.

FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler has said he personally finds the team name offensive and that it should changed, but has reiterated that Banzhaf's petition was reviewed on its merits through the standard FCC process.

Snyder has come under pressure from Native American activists to change the name of the team. Despite protests, vigorous lobbying and even intervention from President Barack Obama, Snyder has vowed to keep it. His supporters say the word is a harmless part of sports tradition.

Some TV football analysts, including CBS' Phil Simms and Super Bowl-winning coach Tony Dungy, have said they will no longer use the moniker, and half of the U.S. Senate asked the NFL to endorse a name change.

The Patent and Trademark Office in June ruled in a case brought by five Native Americans and canceled the team's trademark registration, finding its name and logo disparaging. The team has appealed the decision in federal court.

In October, Ben Shelly, the president of the largest Native American tribe, Navajo Nation, raised eyebrows when he sat with Snyder and wore a cap bearing the Redskins logo during a game in Arizona. Shelly's spokesman said he had no official position on the moniker.

(Reporting by Alina Selyukh; Editing by Dan Grebler)