Washington's football team won't make the playoffs this year, but TV and radio stations can at least say its name without fearing government fines.
The Federal Communications Commission on Thursday rejected a petition that claimed the name "Redskins" violates broadcast indecency rules.
The author of the petition, George Washington law professor John Banzhaf III, argued that the "derogatory racial and ethnic slur" is deeply offensive to American Indians. The word amounts to obscenity and profanity, which the FCC bans from the airwaves, Banzhaf said.
But in its ruling, the FCC's Media Bureau noted that it has traditionally banned only words that are "sexual or excretory in nature." The agency also warned that banning the name could violate the free-speech rights of TV and radio stations.
Banzhaf's petition had asked the commission to reject the license renewal of WWXX-FM, a radio station owned by Redskins owner Daniel Snyder that had repeatedly said the team's name on the air. Instead, the FCC renewed the license, saying it found "no serious violations."
But in an interview, Banzhaf said he expected the defeat and that it's really just "round one" of the fight. He is asking the FCC to reverse past decisions, so he didn't expect the Media Bureau to side with him, the law professor said. He plans to appeal the decision to the full commission and, if necessary, to the federal courts.
In September, FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler said he finds the word personally offensive and that the team should pick a new name.
Earlier this year, the Patent and Trademark Office canceled the team's trademark, concluding that it is "disparaging to Native Americans." The team is appealing that decision.
Snyder has rejected calls to change his team's name for years. A team website claims the name "epitomizes all the noble qualities we admire about Native Americans."
This article is from the archive of our partner National Journal.