October 23, 2016
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Indians Again Attack "Redskins" Trademark But On Wrong Warpath

Using FCC Worked For Blacks, Other Minorities

-American Indian activists have just filed new challenges before the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office to six pending applications for new "Redskin" trademarks because of their objections to this racially offensive and derogatory term; a followup to a strategy which has resulted in defeat after defeat for some 17 years, including, more recently, at the hands of the U.S. Supreme Court.

But public interest law professor John Banzhaf, whose FCC license challenge led to the first appearance of Blacks in significant roles on TV stations -- as well as to antismoking messages on radio and television, the ban on commercials for cigarettes and little cigars, etc. -- thinks they are on the wrong warpath, and should instead -- or, at least

in addition -- oppose the renewal of FCC broadcast licenses of selected stations which continually and unnecessarily use the word "Redskins."

"Even a successful challenge to some pending 'Redskin' trademark applications would not prevent the football team or broadcasters from continuing to use this offensive word, and 17 years of repeated failures using this approach surely suggest that it will be an uphill battle likely to take a long time," says Prof. Banzhaf.

On the other hand, filing an opposition to the renewal of a single broadcast license -- based on the claim that the station in the District of Columbia offended African American by refusing to employ any Blacks as on-air reporters, or to feature them in other significant on-the-air roles -- provided almost immediate relief to Black activists when the challenged station, as well as its major competitors, suddenly changed their policies regarding Blacks both on-the-air and in supporting positions.

There is overwhelming evidence and ample legal precedent that the use of the word "redskins" is racially offensive and derogatory to many American Indians. This includes decisions by three different jurisdictions to ban the use of the word "redskins" on license plates, a unanimous finding by three judges that the word "redskin" is "a derogatory term of reference for Native Americans and tends to bring them "into contempt or disrepute" when used by a professional football team, a decision by the D.C. Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments that the Redskins name is "demeaning and dehumanizing," etc.

Prof. Banzhaf suggests that stations are likely to be even more wary of broadcast license renewal challenges today than when he used this tactic with African American complainants, especially since the FCC started cracking down, imposing fines, and considering even more serious sanctions for other offensive conduct including even accidental and momentarily offensive conduct such as “wardrobe malfunctions," “fleeting explicatives," etc.

"No station would ever have its broadcast license renewed if it regularly used the N-word on the air, even if that was the name of a team or musical group. That's why, for example, the musical group 'Niggers With Attitude' is never referred to by its full name, even though it is made up of African Americans who freely chose the name. The Redskins team is not made up of American Indians, and the R-word -- as offensive to them as the N-word -- was not chosen by them," he notes.

"There appears to be no more disparaging word referring to Native American Indians -- i.e., comparable to 'nigger,' 'kike,' 'jap,' 'chink,' ‘wetback,' etc. for other groups -- than 'redskin" suggests Prof. John Banzhaf, citing an editorial which also likened "redskin" to slurs like "nigger" and "kike."

He therefore suggests that the legal obligation TV stations have to broadcast in the "public interest, convenience, and necessity," and especially to avoid “offensive" broadcasting, requires them to refrain from unnecessary routine use of the word “redskin” in sports reporting, since they can just as easily report that “Washington Beat Dallas," “DC Lost to Indianapolis," etc., as one station already is doing.

"Indians need a second string to their bow in fighting against this racist word," says Banzhaf, and the tremendous and largely untapped power of challenging the renewal of TV and radio licenses before the FCC for offensive broadcasting provides this additional tactic just waiting to be tried, Prof. Banzhaf says.

Professor of Public Interest Law
George Washington University Law School

FAMRI Dr. William Cahan Distinguished Professor
FELLOW, World Technology Network
2013 H Street, NW, Washington, DC 20006, USA
(202) 659-4312 // (703) 527-8418

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