The FCC – best known for its efforts to protect Americans from Janet Jackson’s nipples, Charlotte Ross’ rear end and various gags delivered by a pre-America’s Got Talent Howard Stern – has jumped into the Washington NFL team name debate, announcing today it’s mulling whether to fine broadcasters for saying on-air the racial slur that is the team’s name.
The commission is charged with fining broadcasters for obscenities and indecencies by responding to viewer/listener complaints; in this case, it received a petition from legal activist John Banzhaf III asking that regulators strip a local radio station of its broadcasting license when it comes up for renewal because it used the team’s name. Banzhaf insists the word is racist, derogatory, profane and hateful, making its use “akin to broadcasting obscenity.”
“We’ll be looking at that petition; we will be dealing with that issue on the merits and we’ll be responding accordingly,” FCC chairman Tom Wheeler told reporters today. “There are a lot of names and descriptions that were used over time that are inappropriate today. And I think the name that is attributed to the Washington football club is one of those.”
Should the FCC officially declare use of the team name to be indecent, any broadcast TV or radio station using the name could be fined for each use. All football season long.
Team owner Dan Snyder has declined to change the name, despite lobbying from as high up the food chain as President Obama, who said nearly a year ago that were he the team’s owner, he would consider changing the name under the circumstances. Snyder is appealing in federal court the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office’s decision to cancel the team’s trademark registration because it considers its name and logo disparaging. Meanwhile, some TV football analysts, including CBS’ Phil Simms — who spent his entire 14-year playing career with the rival New York Giants — already have said they won’t use the name.
Today’s announcement, weirdly, puts the FCC in bed with Comedy Central, which has been leading the charge against the team name of late. Last week, South Park opened its 18th season with a highly hyped takedown of Snyder. (Watch a clip above.) The boys of South Park launch a company on Kickstarter and decide to call their company the Washington Redskins, because it’s available since the “court thingy.” Animated Dan Snyder argues that it makes his team seem a joke and says he’s deeply offended, to which Cartman responds that the gang has a deep appreciation and admiration for Snyder’s “people.” Privately, however, the boys acknowledge “digging in our heels and pissing on public opinion is what the Redskins are all about!” Snyder turns to NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, who is revealed to be a robot with only a limited repertoire of cliches — and they’ve all been used in his handling of the league’s domestic violence scandal. (Goodell’s voice makes its South Park debut in that scene.)
The next night, Jon Stewart’s The Daily Show aired its controversial segment in which correspondent Jason Jones interviewed four die-hard team fans who support use of the name, then ambushed them with a group of Native Americans — a move that left the team fans feeling in danger and “defamed,” one of them told The Washington Post.
In March, social media went all Lord of the Flies when @ColbertReport tweeted out a single line that Stephen Colbert had delivered on his Comedy Central late-night show mocking Snyder’s reaction to the calls to change the team name. Snyder, in an effort to placate those wanting the change, had just announced his formation of a foundation to help Native Americans. Unintentionally making his critics’ point, Snyder named the foundation The Washington Redskins Original Americans Foundation. Colbert subsequently had to devote an entire episode of his show to a rebuttal of #CancelColbert campaign stemming from that episode, in which Colbert used a slur against another minority to make a point.
“The Interweb tried to swallow me whole. But I am proud to say that I got lodged in its throat and it hacked me back up, like a hastily chewed chicken wing,” Colbert told fans who’d tuned in to see how he would respond to the kerfuffle, which had been a top trending topic on Twitter for two days running.