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Super Bowl FCC complaints show how mad Americans got about cussing

Records obtained by SB Nation show many viewers were unhappy with the language used by several Patriots during the televised postgame celebration.

NFL: Super Bowl LI-New England Patriots vs Atlanta Falcons Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

At the end of the Super Bowl, as the Patriots were beginning their victory lap after the greatest comeback in playoff history, American viewers noticed something that many thought was alarming.

Willie McGinest, a former Patriots star wrapped in a grey suit, was taking the Lombardi Trophy to the podium for the award presentation. During his stroll, anchored by sweaty footballers, he started cussing. The players next to him, naturally, started cussing, too.

According to records SB Nation acquired from the Federal Communications Commission, plenty of viewers were irate they saw athletes using explicit language on live television during Sunday’s game. Further, some noted the ethnicity of the players they saw use profanity.

Ticket: # 1437334 - F words repetitions while my kids are watching superbowl [sic]

Date: 2/6/2017 1:51:36 AM

City/State/Zip: Cottage Grove, Oregon [zip code redacted]


My husband, five children aging 6-17 were watching Fox telivion [sic], the patriots were getting awarded the Lombardi trophy after winning the super bowl. I was feeling inspiration for the kids, that anything is possible for my childrens [sic] future. The whole time they are walking the trophy down you hear the F word or MF over and over. It was ridiculous to have people that your kids look up to, hearing verbiage like that. I thought there was a mandaty [sic] time delay for reasons like this. I didn't invite that language into my house but yet it was there during family TV time. I'm outraged that the technology provided doesn't better protect innocent ones from those obscenities. I think this has to stop and someone needs to make sure it doesn't happen anymore. Totally dissatisfied with what you allow!!! It can be avoided!

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Ticket: # 1437230 - Fox football is cursing at me

Date: 2/5/2017 11:48:33 PM

City/State/Zip: San Antonio, Texas [zip code redacted]


The African American guy carrying a silver trophy was yelling "motherfucker" at least two times. This is inappropriate for young viewers and Fox has crossed the line as well as the NFL.

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Ticket: # 1437288 - Cursing on live TV

Date: 2/6/2017 12:10:37 AM

City/State/Zip: Rosemead, California [zip code redacted]


At the end of the superbowl [sic] a black teammate congratulated tom brady and told him "YOURE THE GREATEST, YOURE THE FUCKING GREATEST, YOURE THE FUCKING GREATEST!"

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Ticket: # 1437433 - Vulgarity after Superbowl on OTA Fox channel

Date: 2/6/2017 9:52:45 AM

City/State/Zip: Hazlehurst, Georgia [zip code redacted]


I cannot believe Willie McGinest is so uncouth he cannot find a better word than motherfu##er while carrying the Lombardi trophy past players and fans. This happened after Superbowl 51 on Feb 5 2017. Obviously fox was unaware because it was not bleeped out. He told fans and players to kiss it, kiss this motherfu##er, tongue kiss it. I mean really. And while staring into camera.

This isn’t the first time that a Patriots player has met outrage via an FCC complaint. In 2014, Tom Brady cursed during a game and drew the ire of a few upset viewers.

The last Super Bowl held in Houston infamously resulted in CBS being initially fined $550,000 by the FCC over Janet Jackson’s “wardrobe malfunction.” The fine, a record at the time, was eventually struck down U.S. Third Circuit Court of Appeals.

The complaints varied between fans about this year’s halftime show. One viewer described the performer, Lady Gaga, as “an anagram of Sharia Law.”

One Falcons fan enjoyed the show and the game, but still found issue with McGinest’s trophy walk.

Ticket: # 1438652 - Super Bowl Language - Willie McGinest

Date: 2/6/2017 3:33:42 PM

City/State/Zip: Whigham, Georgia [zip code redacted]

The Super Bowl was perfect, even though my team lost. Lady Gaga was classy and even though I do not side with her politically, I felt her half-time show was spot on! I loved it. Patriots came back and deserved the win no doubt, however when Willie McGinest was walking the trophy to the stage all of my good feelings for the show were lost! I lost count how many times the "f-bomb" was dropped not to mention the innuendos. Many children stayed up to watch this great show and they were exposed to such vulgarity. Has our culture changed so much as to expect this as a norm? Not cool!

Some viewers pointed out that Fox could be penalized for this flub. In certain viewers’ eyes, this mistake was avoidable. To allow this to continue was a betrayal to the NFL’s vast viewership and a Fox-controlled audience.

Ticket: # 1437379 - Foul mouthed players and media representatives during Superbowl 51.

Date: 2/6/2017 6:22:29 AM

City/State/Zip: Austin, Texas [zip code redacted]


Language and gestures used on live broadcast by Patriots players and media representatives was offensive, obscene, and most likely illegal. This was not a single slip of the tongue by one individual. This was lewd and offensive references to a parading NFL trophy at the end of the game. The individual parading the trophy encouraged and solicited the players to use the language and gestures. His own words included 'KISS THIS MOTHERFUCKER', and more. It appeared that all Patriot players participated as the trophy walked amid a double line with a live camera broadcasting it all. A majority of the team used language that repeatedly included 'LET ME KISS THAT MOTHER FUCKER', 'I'll KISS THAT BITCH', and much more. There is no question that millions of children were subjected to this lewd and lowlife display. The tapes will show it clearly. The broadcasters should have muted this behavior, but let it continue and encouraged it for several minutes. This blatant behavior demands the federal broadcast regulations be brought to bear on those who participated and those responsible organizations. I expect a response to this complaint in writing.

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Ticket: # 1437293 - Foul Language

Date: 2/6/2017 12:13:05 AM

City/State/Zip: Marietta, Georgia [zip code redacted]


At the end of the Super Bowl game, there was a person carrying the trophy through a bunch of players and he said "Kiss that Mother Fucker" out loud and they DID NOT edit it out. It is highly offensive. I don't know the person's name who was carry the trophy, but he had a MIC ON. Don't these people think!! I hope the station gets fined for not beeping it out with the 7-second delay....

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Ticket: # 1439655 - Profanity broadcasted on network tv during superbowl LI [sic]

Date: 2/6/2017 9:22:59 PM

City/State/Zip: Malvern, Arkansas [zip code redacted]


With over 172 million viewers, Fox 16 a broadcast station (not a cable station) broadcasted Superbowl LI [sic] Sunday February 5, 2017 starting at 5:30pm CST. During their broadcast they failed to censor the word FUCK multiple times, the words MOTHER FUCKER were said right into the camera and also the phrase FUCKING SHIT! Fox needs to be fined for broadcasting profanity throughout the Superbowl [sic] show completely uncensored while millions of children were watching!

Former New England Patriots player Willie McGinest made his way onto the field with the Lombardi trophy at first he said "I'm gonna kiss this bitch" then he said "kiss this MOTHERFUCKER" directly into the camera!

Also there was a point in the 2nd half when Ryan had to call a timeout because his headset wasn't working. The 3rd string quarterback dropped it 3 times and said something along the lines of "I can't hear fucking shit" before the mics cut out.

Like 3 "fucks" got through and then they killed the on field mic.

The chance Fox gets disciplined for this, however, isn’t likely, according to the FCC’s conduct guidelines:

Title 18 of the United States Code, Section 1464, prohibits the utterance of any obscene, indecent or profane language by means of radio communication. Consistent with a subsequent statute and court case, the Commission's rules prohibit the broadcast of indecent material during the period of 6 a.m. and 10 p.m. FCC decisions also prohibit the broadcast of profane material between 6 a.m. and 10 p.m.

While the word “fuck” is explicitly deemed by the organization as profane, The Super Bowl ended at 10:24 p.m. ET. Any complaints about postgame cursing are rendered moot because that falls in what is called the “safe harbor period” between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m.

During this time, indecent and profane material may be aired, according to the FCC. Obscene material may not be. The word “fuck” is not considered obscene by the FCC. Even if the word is used before 10 p.m., there is the matter of context to be considered.

Offensive words may be profane and/or indecent depending on the context. In the Golden Globe Awards Order, the FCC stated that it would address the legality of broadcast language on a case-by-case basis. Depending on the context presented, use of the F-Word or other words as highly offensive as the F-Word may be both indecent and profane, if aired between 6 a.m. and 10 p.m.

In 2012, the Supreme Court threw out fines against broadcast networks regarding inadvertent cursing, as well as nudity because the networks could not have known it would it would rise to the level of a fine.

Others sent complaints to the FCC about a commercial T-Mobile produced with Kristen Schaal dubbed “#NSFWireless” because they thought it wasn’t “family appropriate.”

Ticket: # 1437190 - T Mobile super bowl commercials

Date: 2/5/2017 10:50:39 PM

City/State/Zip: Jupiter, Florida [zip code redacted]


I think the T-Mobile super bowl commercials are extremely inappropriate for young audiences due to the sado-masochism innuendos. This is much worse than Janet Jackson's accidental exposure!! I'm just glad it's a school night and my children went to bed since I live on the East coast [sic].

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Ticket: # 1437909 - T-Mobile Super Bowl Commercials

Date: 2/6/2017 12:40:45 PM

City/State/Zip: Oklahoma City, Oklahoma [zip code redacted]


T-Mobile aired two indecent sexual commercials during the Super Bowl. This is supposed to be a family event. The kids already have to leave during the sexually charged halftime show and now they have to leave for the commercials. Families all over the country now have to explain BDSM to their kids and how their new campaign of #TheSafeWordIsUnlimited is appropriate.

The Patriots returned to Boston Tuesday to parade the trophy in front of thousands of adoring fans. It’s doubtful many cared about what was said after the game. The day echoed another famous televised curse word from a different Boston athlete, and nobody got fined for that one either.

Super Bowl 2017 recap