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FCC Dismisses Anti-"Redskins" Petition

The FCC rejected a law professor's claim that broadcasters should be punished for using the word "Redskins."

James Lang-USA TODAY Sports

As reported by Politico, the Federal Communications Commission yesterday dismissed a petition by George Washington Law School professor John Banzhaf that would have brought "Redskins" under the same regulatory umbrella as words that are considered "indecent" or "obscene."

Banzhaf vowed to continue pursuing other options to try to get the word banned.  "[The decision] is a disappointment, but it's certainly not the end of the line," he said.

The problem Banzhaf encountered was the one I discussed when I wrote about the petition in September:  Namely, that "Redskins" doesn't meet the FCC's own criteria for sanctioning language.  Most of those rules - and the legal underpinning for them, which comes from a case called Miller v. California - rely on a connection to sexual or excretory-related meaning.  The FCC cited the lack of such a connection in making its ruling.

I also pointed out that, even though "Washington Redskins" is considered offensive by some, mere offensiveness is not enough for a government agency to sanction broadcasters for using the word.  The government attempting to punish the use of a word that doesn't fit the very narrow category of unprotected speech would be an overreach that runs afoul of First Amendment principles.

The FCC agreed, and Banzhaf's petition is dead.