PHILADELPHIA — Is Phillies second baseman Chase Utley a threat to the nation's children?
That's a question the Federal Communications Commission will ask as it reviews complaints about his salty language during the Philadelphia Phillies' World Series celebration.
At a rally at Citizens Bank Park after the Oct. 31 championship parade, the typically laid-back Utley leaned into a microphone and cheered the team's title as "World Champions!" Then he repeated the phrase, sprinkling in the f-word.
Fans at the stadium roared, but 26 people tuned to the live broadcasts on local radio and TV filed complaints with the FCC. The agency, which said Dec. 19 it was reviewing the complaints, could fine the stations for indecency.
The Philadelphia Inquirer filed a Freedom of Information Act request for copies of the complaints and reported excerpts from them this week.
"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?" one parent wrote, according to the newspaper.
The FCC automatically reviews such complaints, but does not comment until it makes its finding, a spokesman said Dec. 19. The verdict can range from a hefty fine to a free pass.
Utley has a genial image in the city, evident in a Philadelphia Magazine cover this year in which he posed with his wife, Jen, and a pair of kittens to promote animal adoptions. He has since warned children not to use the word that he let slip, though he suggested there was one exception.
"If they're 29 and they win the World Series, I think they can say that," he teased at a press conference Dec. 15 on his recent hip surgery.
The FCC may decide otherwise.
The agency has been clamping down since 2004 on the use of "fleeting" expletives and images, such as the brief shot of Janet Jackson's nearly bare breast during the 2004 Super Bowl halftime show. The FCC fined CBS $550,000 for the half-second of nudity, but a federal appeals court this summer overturned the fine after concluding that the agency acted arbitrarily.
However the FCC views Utley's utterance, the U.S. Supreme Court is again studying the line between free speech and broadcast indecency.
Four days after the Phillies rally, the high court heard arguments over similarly brief on-air profanities by Cher and Nicole Richie at televised awards shows. The FCC had found their speech indecent, but a federal appeals court in New York overturned the agency. The case is FCC v. Fox.
Chief Justice John Roberts seemed to find the FCC's strict standard reasonable. But the more liberal Justice John Paul Stevens appeared skeptical, asking whether the words, spoken in passing, really convey sexual or excretory meaning.
Said Utley this week of his word choice: "Kids, it's a bad word. Don't say it. And I'm dead serious."