Blame Broadcasters For ‘Redskins’ Name Change Today
By By John F. Banzhaf III, B.S.E.E., J.D., Sc.D., Professor of Public Interest Law, George Washington University Law School
Washington football will announce its new team name today; a change brought on by overwhelming criticism of “Redskins” as “derogatory” and “racist,” but much of the blame for the well documented physical as well as emotional harm caused by the name lies with broadcasters, who challenged whether the repeated and unnecessary use of the word violated broadcasting law as many legal experts had maintained.
After all, broadcasters would not repeatedly use the N-word (“n*ggers”) on the air, even if it were part of the name of a team or popular music group, any more than they would use words like “sp*cs, “k*kes, “r*gheads, “c*nts, or similar words universally recognized as highly derogatory to groups such as Blacks, Hispanics, Jews, Arabs, women, and others.
For example, most broadcasters never dared use the full name of “Niggaz Wit Attitudes” when discussing the musical group or introducing its songs, even though the African Americans who made up the group (unlike the football players) freely chose the name for themselves to make a point, and the word “Niggaz” is different from the similar-sounding word “N*iggers.”
In using a word found by many American Indian and other organizations to be highly derogatory, banned in several states from use on personal license plates, and almost universally recognized and condemned as “racist” – indeed, often called the “R-word” to remind people that its use is as offensive and harmful to American Indians as the “N-word” is to Blacks – broadcasters ignored the well documented harm the word caused, especially when used both repeatedly and unnecessarily by radio and TV stations which affect millions, as compared to the much smaller number of fans who would only see and hear the word occasionally in stadiums.
Just as broadcasters referred to “Niggaz Wit Attitudes” as “N.W.A.” when discussing or introducing their music, radio and TV stations could just as easily have referred to this entity as “The Washington Football Team” or “Washington” or even just “DC” – as in “Washington Beat Dallas” or “DC has a new quarterback.”
Indeed, broadcasters recently did in fact start simply using the phrase “Washington Football Team” – as some broadcasters had done long before the team abandoned the name – when the team itself dropped its racist name; proving that they could have done so even sooner without confusing the audience.
This deliberate choice, not to serve the “public interest” as required by broadcast law, resulted in many young American Indian children being beaten, chased, teased and otherwise called names, and adults suffering in the same ways as Black adults too often suffer from being called “n*ggers.”
So, while the team and its owner will largely be blamed for the long-running use of the name, even after it was demonstrated that the offensive word was never adopted to honor anyone, the real blame should be laid at the feet of the many broadcast stations which deliberately chose to appease some fans, even if it meant documented harm to children as well as adult American Indians, widespread condemnation, and apparent violation of broadcast law.