My colleague, George Washington University law professor John Banzhaf, has entered the fray over the Redskins name with the filing of a complaint to oppose the renewal of a radio station’s license due to its use of the team name. The filing comes at a time when recent polls show that almost three out of four people polled still believe that the Redskins should keep its name and do not view the name as racist. Another poll shows that almost 60 percent of NFL players believe that the team should keep its name. The radio station, WWXX-FM, is an ESPN affiliate owned by team owner Dan Snyder.
Banzhaf is actually teaching my torts class his term while I am on sabbatical. We disagree on this issue. I recently wrote a Washington Post column on the controversy over the Redskins name. I do not believe that government agencies or boards should make this decision and view it as a further expansion of the administrative state into social or political controversies. This effort would bring a second agency into the mix after the recent trademark controversy at the Patent Office.
Banzhaf is quoted in our GW Hatchet as drawing a comparison to the use of the n-word: “Most people I think would agree that a station that repeatedly used the n-word on the air would have their license taken away. American Indians call it the r-word. Therefore broadcasters shouldn’t be using the term ‘Redskins.’ ”
The FCC Petition states that “it is long since time for the FCC to determine whether the continued and unnecessary use of the most racially derogatory word which can be used in connection with America’s first citizens can possibly be consistent with a broadcaster’s mandatory legal obligations.”
The question however remains the role of agencies as arbiter of such disputes as opposed to leaving the question for the fans and society (and the market) to decide. While the support for the name has fallen, it is still remarkably high with both the public and fans and even many Native Americans. The question is who should decide such questions and whether an insulated government board or office should effectively determine the issue. I certainly understand and respect the arguments of those challenging the name and my primary interest is not the merits of the dispute but the means by which it is decided.
Banzhaf often includes students in his litigation, which has included groundbreaking reforms in combating tobacco use. His class on litigation is called “Sue the Bastards.” He is the founder of a smoking pressure group, Action on Smoking and Health (ASH). Even as a law student, Banzhaf was a fierce advocate. While still a student at Columbia Law School, Banzhaf wrote a note on copyrighting computer and software programs. It had never been done despite requests. While still a student, Banzhaf sought to register copyrights on two programs he had written. He became in 1964 the first person to register such copyrights. He later testified in Congress on the issue. Not a bad start for a law student. Notably, one of my colleagues,
Robert Brauneis, attended an event at the Library of Congress celebrating the 60th anniversary of the Copyright Society and the Library was featuring exhibits in the Main Reading Room that constituted the most important developments in copyright law. It featured Banzhaf groundbreaking application (which Brauneis captured in this picture from the celebration).
Source: GW Hatchet