"Redskins" Debate Not for FCC to Settle

Paul McLane is editor in chief.

I have come to view the name Redskins as offensive. Yet I feel the Federal Communications Commission did the right thing this week.

I’m no fan of racially oriented language; nor do I blame the law professor and his colleagues for pursuing all available legal channels to put pressure on the team. But this was not a case the FCC can or should decide. This is a case for market pressure to handle.

It is my view — informed in part by my own observations of my Washington-area neighbors — that team owner Daniel Snyder, despite protestations to the contrary, will live to see the day when his beloved team name changes under the heat of overwhelming cultural demands, advertiser complaints, player protest and fan unrest. Ultimately, his own communities are going to overrule him.

That time has not yet come, but it is coming.

Meantime, I don’t want an FCC that would deny renewal of a radio station license because an affiliated business bears a name that some people have come to find offensive after years or even decades of use. Cultural acceptability changes; businesses and people should change with them; but I don’t want an FCC that makes that decision for us.

Legal arguments about renewal were based in part on whether Snyder has the character qualifications of an FCC licensee and the idea that the name constitutes hate speech and incites violence against Indians. But the FCC said the term is not obscene nor profane, and reiterated that it does not — must not — interfere with broadcasters’ free speech rights. It found no reason to think the name incited or produced imminent lawless action, and I agree.

Meantime, those who detest the name have the right to press their case; they should, and they will. I hope the team listens. Ultimately it will lose this fight, and it would be acting in enlightened self-interest to get ahead of this debate by establishing and publishing a years-long strategy to phase the name out.

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