FCC gets complaints on Utley's on-air F-bomb

The new curse: Chase Utley at the Phillies victory celebration.
The new curse: Chase Utley at the Phillies victory celebration. (Tony Fitts)
Posted: December 18, 2008

It was the F-bomb heard round the world . . . or at least the Philadelphia area.

And Phillies second baseman Chase Utley's use of the colorful adjective during the team's World Series victory parade on Oct. 31 has landed in the lap of the Federal Communications Commission.

The FCC reports it received 26 complaints from the public about Utley's language, which was heard live, in the late afternoon, on at least five television stations and one radio station, KYW (1060). Nielsen Media Research estimated that more than 825,000 local viewers saw part of the parade on CBS3, 6ABC, NBC10, Fox29, or Comcast SportsNet.

Whether any of the stations will face sanctions is not clear. An FCC spokeswoman said Tuesday that the agency does not comment on open issues.

The complaints - copies of which were requested by The Inquirer under the Freedom of Information Act - assign equal blame to Utley and the stations. The identities of the complainants were redacted.

"If they didn't want such words to be broadcast, they should have aired [it] on a delay to catch any obscene language," wrote a viewer from Philadelphia. "Pull their license to broadcast."

Another viewer wrote: "He should be disciplined for his lack of respect towards his fans and in particular the children exposed to such vulgarity. . . . The broadcasters are not at fault. Chase Utley is."

Another: "This was not a casual slip. This was an intentional misuse and abuse of the public airwaves. . . . How am I to explain such profanity to my child?"

And another: "It was embarrassing that he was allowed to do that and if there are no ramifications I will be furious. Is there no platform that is sacred anymore?"

A radio listener who wrote, "I heard it here in Camden," said: "That sort of language is no big deal. . . except that Howard Stern was driven off free radio by you, the FCC, because of content and bad words and the like. It's only fair that broadcasters be held to the same standards. . . . Fine KYW as much as you are legally allowed to fine them! . . . Lord knows the US Treasury could use the money."

Utley, who would not face sanctions himself, addressed his language Monday during a news conference about his surgically repaired hip: "I tell all kids not to use that word. If they're 29 and they win the World Series, I think they can say that. But I definitely would say to all the kids out there, 'Kids, it's a bad word. Don't say it. And I'm dead serious.' "

Anchors on most stations apologized after the speech, which was not subject to the delays common in talk radio. The stations themselves this week recalled receiving few if any complaints. The stations either declined to comment or did not respond to inquiries this week.

The number of complaints does not govern the actions of the FCC, which handles complaints individually.

The case - the uttering of a fleeting expletive in a live setting - may become part of a battle between the FCC and broadcasters.

By coincidence, four days after the parade, the U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments in FCC v. Fox Television. The FCC had cited Fox over two instances of fleeting expletives: The 2002 Billboard Music Awards, in which Cher used an obscenity, and the 2003 Billboard Music Awards, in which Nicole Richie used two of them.

For decades, the FCC had not cited broadcasters for such fleeting expletives. But after receiving complaints after Bono used the F-word on the 2003 Golden Globes, the FCC began to take a hard look at the issue. A February 2006 order held that a single utterance of certain words was indecent, and therefore broadcasters could be fined.

Before the Supreme Court is the question of whether the FCC violates free-speech rights by fining broadcasters for fleeting swear words. More likely, it could decide whether the FCC acted arbitrarily and capriciously when it changed its policy.

The audio and video in Citizens Bank Park, at the end of the parade, was provided by Comcast SportsNet under a pool arrangement to local broadcasters. SportsNet would not face sanctions because it is a cable network, not a broadcaster, and is not subject to FCC indecency rules.

SportsNet, which has made the parade video available through Comcast On Demand, recently edited out Utley's comment.


Contact staff writer Michael Klein

at 215-854-5514 or mklein@phillynews.com.

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