Jared Wickerham/Getty Images
Jared Wickerham/Getty Images

Legislating Language: Will the NFL Ban the N-Word?

One current All-Pro calls the idea ‘atrocious.’ But one Hall of Famer argues it's dishonorable for today’s players to use the word. The NFL is now stuck in the middle as it considers passing a rule to penalize those who use it on the field

We seem to have a disagreement about Johnny Manziel, and the salary cap has exploded in a good way, and Brandin Cooks is trying to elbow his way up in the first round, and free agency is only eight days away, and the Eagles have done a bunch of good business.

But first, about that n-word …

The NFL Competition Committee has been meeting in Florida since Friday, and one of the items the eight men are debating is whether it should be a penalty if a player on the field uses the n-word. I am hearing it is unlikely a rule will be passed this year penalizing a player for using the n-word for the first time in a game. Three outcomes are possible:

1. The Competition Committee will urge that it be a point of emphasis for officials this year. When officials hear it, they would admonish players about it and do nothing else.

2. The committee will urge that offending players be warned if the word is used on the field during games. After a warning, a player with a second use could be penalized for using it, at the discretion of the officiating crew. I say “could be,” because the league could give officiating crews the option of throwing a flag, depending on the circumstances.

3. Nothing will change. Players will be allowed to use the word at will.

I believe a combination of numbers one and two is most likely. There is already a rule on the books that would allow an official to throw a flag for taunting and/or excessive foul language. But understand that the eight-man Competition Committee is not a legislative body. It recommends new rules, and owners vote on them. So we won’t know anything about the outcome of the debate till the owners’ meetings in Orlando beginning March 23.

“[Banning the n-word] is an atrocious idea,” Richard Sherman said. “It’s almost racist, to me. Why wouldn’t all curse words be banned then.”

Over the weekend, I communicated with three African-American players about it. Two of them were opposed to the word being banned. A third thought it was a good idea but would be hard to police.

“It’s an atrocious idea,” said Seattle cornerback Richard Sherman. “It’s almost racist, to me. It’s weird they’re targeting one specific word. Why wouldn’t all curse words be banned then?”

“It’s a common word in so many players’ everyday lives,” said Tennessee cornerback Jason McCourty. “Among African-American players and people, it’s used among friends all the time. It seems like a bit much for the NFL to try to get rid of it. It’s a pretty common word in the locker room, like ‘man,’ ‘bro,’ ‘nigga.’ But once a white person says it, it’s a derogatory term.”

Richard Sherman says he hears the n-word in every game he plays. (Rod Mar/SI/The MMQB)
Richard Sherman says he hears the n-word in every game he plays. (Rod Mar/SI/The MMQB)

Sherman emphasized that the n-word ending in “-er” is racist, but the n-word ending in “-a” is not, when used among African-American players.

“It’s in the locker room and on the field at all times,” Sherman said. “I hear it almost every series out there on the field.”

Free agent linebacker D’Qwell Jackson said, “Ultimately, if the NFL can get it done, it’s great for our game. But I think refs have a hard enough time officiating the game now. Now they’d be asked to police language?”

One reliable league source told me the biggest problem he saw is that very often during scrums, name-calling and foul language are exchanged by a group of players. What happens if an official thinks he heard the n-word from one player and it actually was another? The referee could call the unsportsmanlike conduct penalty/language foul, and if the offending player is white, it’s going to scar him for his career. What if the call is made on the wrong player?

It’s a very difficult issue, obviously. In the Seattle Seahawks’ Super Bowl-winning locker room, explicit rap songs, several using the n-word repeatedly, blared out from a boom box at Marshawn Lynch’s locker. Some players seem stunned that it’s an issue at all. But it’s been made one by the Fritz Pollard Alliance, the equality-advocacy group focused mostly on coaching and front-office job opportunities in the NFL. The Fritz Pollard Alliance has been loudly advocating the ban of the n-word this off-season. This is where the generation gap between the hierarchy of the Pollard organ—chairman John Wooten, 77, and executive director Harry Carson, 60—and many current players comes into the picture.

Carson grew up in South Carolina, and he was derisively called the n-word as a child by white people. He felt discriminated against. There is no kidding around with the word, no “-a” instead of “-er” that makes the word different to the Hall of Fame linebacker.

Harry Carson played 13 seasons for the Giants from 1976-88 and was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2006. (Mike Powell/Getty Images)
Harry Carson played 13 seasons for the Giants from 1976-88 and was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2006. (Mike Powell/Getty Images)

“I find it very disheartening that in our society today we’re having a debate about the n-words being used as a term of endearment,” Carson said on Sunday. “If that’s a term of endearment, go up to your grandfather, or an elderly black person, and use it on them. See how they react. For those who use it, I say they have no sense of history.”

Last week, I was at the Pro Football Hall of Fame doing some research. It’s known in pro football circles that the Cleveland Browns had black players in pro football (Marion Motley and Bill Willis) before the Dodgers had the first black player in major league baseball (Jackie Robinson). Motley and Willis played for the Browns beginning in 1946, Robinson a year later with the Dodgers. But I was surprised to learn Cleveland coach Paul Brown was forced to leave Motley and Willis behind for a road trip to Miami on Dec. 3, 1946. The local segregation laws forbade black players from being on the field with whites then.

Willis made the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Carson was enshrined, too, in 2006, 21 months before Willis died. They became friends, and had conversations about what Willis went through to become a pro football player at a time of racial strife in America.

“For someone who uses the n-word,” said Carson, “it dishonors Bill Willis, and it dishonors the sacrifices he and others have made for others in the future. I find it disheartening players can justify using the word in any form today, in 2014.”

So now you see the layout of the issues. It’s an incredibly sensitive topic, which makes the Competition Committee’s job impossible. No matter what the committee, led by Falcons president Rich McKay and Rams coach Jeff Fisher,  recommends, it will face ire from one of two sides: football traditionalists and respected veterans who see it as an issue of dignity, or many modern players who see it as an infringement of free speech.

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536 comments
Norman Keister
Norman Keister

I vote for the NFL ( white only ) and the NFL ( black only ) and we will see which one makes the cut !!!!

RickDesper
RickDesper

Phill Simms is a scientist.  (*chortle*)

DfpMiiWe
DfpMiiWe

For the best content and news go to dailyfirstpages.com. 

ScottConrad
ScottConrad

If I am a black defensive player, I get in a little skirmish with Riley Cooper, say the N word loud enough for a nearby official to hear it, then act like Riley said and see if I can get the penalty called on him.  


In reality, you add on field language as a point of emphasis for unsportsmanlike conduct calls this next year.


It will probably be called as much as last year's controversial RB leading with crown of helmet penalty...

number18
number18

Jaws and Idiot Sims only speak up when it is Politically Correct to do so and LiL pete"likes that".

number18
number18

Simple Solution: Only blacks can use the Nword.Sounds fair.

H.LewisSmith
H.LewisSmith

How did the Black African American community come about seeing and using the n-word as a term of endearment?Just what is the true significance of their use of the word n**ga?The answers to these questions and much more are revealed in the following publication which was released on February 10, 2014:

https://www.createspace.com/4655015

BigSchtick
BigSchtick

NFL refs can't seem to get visual calls right. Now they are supposed to be running around listening to on the field banter?

Ridiculous.

MichaelHanny
MichaelHanny

Several retired Black football players and executives (who paved the way for current players) have come out in support of a proposal to legislate the "n" word out of the NFL, instituting a 15 yard penalty for use of the word during games.


NFL player Richard Sherman came out and stated that the proposal is "racist", and there are many who disagree with him, while agreeing withthese former players and pioneers that the word is degrading, and that the word is offensive regardless of context.

Offensive language is offensive language. All of it should be prohibited. When the "n" word was used by the black community without the limelight of media (despite white folks overhearing blacks call other blacks this, and saying nothing for decades, even centuries), there was no outcry. Even when the word became "ebonisized" (pronouncing the word with an "a" suffix instead of the "er"), and with the black community using IT both in negative and positive contexts, there was no outcry.  Now, since the NFL "brand" risks being tarnished, folks are coming out for this rule, defending the "shield". 

What about all of the other offensive grunts and verbalizations so common on the gridiron? Can I call a white person a "cracker" and get away with it, while the white person calls me a "n", it's 15 yards? Is this right? 

Kudos to Sherman. He called a spade a spade. This puts young black men in the spotlight in a negative way once again, veiled by the "righteousness" and "history" that is quite apparent and recognized by most. Racism comes in many forms, and this is yet another form. Too bad those former Black players and executives don't see this, despite their yeoman and admirable posture and effort.

Acotoz
Acotoz

The biggest question here is how is the NFL going to enforce this? 22 players on the field just a small handful of officials, how many times is the word thrown out when there's a skirmish?? Refs will spend at least 5 minutes explaining all the flags  (Ed Hoculi will spend 10)

KennethJohnson
KennethJohnson

For the N-word, I can't see Dr. King or Malcolm using it. Richard Sherman and the new gen Rappers that N-word is adorned with hundreds of years of whips, chains and pain in America. It is not an affirmation of identity with used among black people,but a subliminal denigration (do you know who you are, and don't you forget it) Malcolm X asked who told you were n*ggers. And no you can't gold plated it or change the spelling for bling. That's mighty white of you(go ask your grandparents).

For The R-word, I suggest the ad, "Redskins and Cowboys-real people, real dead people, not a kids game. When 'Indians" fought to drive back the invading settlers by any means necessary, and the soldiers killed and moved the Native Americans off their land into concentration camps(reservations). We stand behind Redskins, brave fearless freedom fighters for their people and remember." Let get real.   

SARDiver
SARDiver

Overheard between two friends at Manhattan gym:

"See that guy over there? He was checking me out into, within, and out of the steam room. Who the hell is that guy? I used extra towels just to cover myself up, but he kept staring at me."

"I dunno. He was reading a piece on that Sam guy, and I think I heard Bette Midler coming from his iPod."

It's creepy to pay that much attention to another man in a locker room.

SweetLightCrude
SweetLightCrude

The only thing more ridiculous that someone like Sherman defending this word is all the white folks here getting all upset about "reverse racism."


Why is it so flipping important to point out that black people can be racist? Do you seriously think that somehow levels the playing field a bit? Does it make you feel a little less guilty about the past?  

BillieZahurak
BillieZahurak

Just like on the playground in kindergarten, if everyone can't say it, no one should say it.

tbdetermined
tbdetermined

you are here because of your ancestors remember their struggles. do you really want to live in your ignorance? If you demand respect, respect yourself. 

Marc1017
Marc1017

This is probably one of the stupidest things I have ever heard from a League. How are you going to regulate language both logistically and legally? This will only serve to further pussify the NFL even farther than they already have done. Its getting so ridiculous that the replacement "N-word" phrase is synonomus as the actual word. That means the word is fine and its the racist idiot you should be more careful of then his language. This word is no better or worse than any other curse or derrogatory word or phrase in the English language. And if someone uses it with me then I have the spoken right to use it in front of them.

And besides, how am I going to get my Jay-Z freak on if I cant use it? 

Get past it America. We have bigger battles to fight.

BettyGeorge
BettyGeorge

I have always found the use of the N word very disrespectful.  I raised my children not to say it and I also will tell my grandchildren not to.  I even have told my Grand children who are biracial they are not allowed to use that word in my home it is very disrespectful and will continue to do so until the day I die.  I am for the ban and will be happy when it is enforced.   It is something that needs to be done.  They are as much a part of the nfl reguardless of their color o9f their skin.  Color is only skin deep, and we as fans need to stand up and say enough is enough.  We are all of Gods Children reguardless of the color of our skin. 

RobJohnson3
RobJohnson3

None of the races can use the N word?

rohlb2351
rohlb2351

The only solutions by the NFL that might eliminate trash talking is to either to affect the offending players' income with substantial fines or reducing a team's winning potential by ejecting offending players from the game. .Don't expect either to occur.

eljoylan
eljoylan

Another lover of the lime light....That's it Richard....If it's not fixed, let it stay broke.

Junkjunk
Junkjunk

Such an ugly word. Stunning that young blacks use it as cheaply as they do given the terrible, relatively recent history associated with it, and the pain that it continues to cause their elders.  Selfish, disrespectful, ignorant.

JuliaAnD'Elia
JuliaAnD'Elia

This needs to apply to all or none.  Equality does not mean you get to pick and chose. 

nole777
nole777

Use of the N word will only apply to the white players.

Redskins
Redskins

"I’d love to get my hands on Manziel. " Of course you would. But what do you know!

tkeller200
tkeller200

To say its a word, that when used among African-American players, is OK. But not for other races to say. That to me is racist. What other words are we not to use Sherman, please tell me?

RickDesper
RickDesper

@ScottConrad  You really think that would work?  So you're some kind of professional ventriloquist who can throw his voice while imitating somebody else?  


Yeah, that's not going to happen often.

DonnieToby
DonnieToby

@number18 The ONLY way to handle this concern is to make the NFL and AFL an all 'Black' sport, which it is almost already. .

MarvinGardens
MarvinGardens

@Acotoz It's impossible to fairly enforce.  It's comical to even consider.  The entire discussion is a waste of breath.


Bigger question .... why do these people who proclaim to hate the word, find any excuse to use it.  Defies logic.

RickDesper
RickDesper

@SARDiver  Glad to "hear" homophobia is alive and well in Manhattan.  Because I'm sure that story isn't something you just made up.

KidHorn
KidHorn

@SARDiver PK was probably pissed because the guy only left him 4 towels.

MarvinGardens
MarvinGardens

@SweetLightCrude Why should anyone feel guilty about the past.  I don't know anyone who had anything to do with it.  It's time to get over it.

SARDiver
SARDiver

Didn't realize we all needed to feel guilty about the past. If everyone

from a particular race is somehow guilty for the crimes committed by

another in that race, then...the bigots have a point, don't they?

I don't think they do, since the crimes of others are not up for

distribution.

RickDesper
RickDesper

@Marc1017  So the NFL is made more masculine by letting players use racist language with each other?


Not seeing how that logic works.  

number18
number18

@BettyGeorge Ms.Betty,it's the black folks that use this word in the NFL dee mostest.

atreborn
atreborn

@eljoylan  The only thing being fixed is the game!  15 yards as a ref's discretion sounds like "win win " to me.  Maybe Richard should just remain one of the sheep. 

atreborn
atreborn

@tkeller200  I'm white but I can't stand it when other whites are so narrow minded to only hear what suits them.  I'm not sure tkeller200 really cares what Sherman says, only that he does not actually know that Sherman said "Why wouldn't all curse words be banned then".  70% of the NFL is Black.  The white players on the the teams are not the ones complaining.  Ask your self "who is behind this push to end the "N" word. Then ask yourself when was the last time you witnessed an NFL player saying it.  Maybe you should then ask your self "15 yard against your team" because a Referee felt it necessary to control the outcome of the game.  Maybe reading between the lines instead of putting the blinders on should be in question. 

RickDesper
RickDesper

@MarvinGardens @Acotoz  

It's actually pretty easy to enforce.  I'm not seeing the difficulty.


I could make the same argument made above but move it to "throwing punches".

tbdetermined
tbdetermined

@MarvinGardens @SweetLightCrude it's not about feeling guilty, it's about respect. If the word is still around then obviously we are not over it. If you are over it, you would not use the word.  

Junkjunk
Junkjunk

@Redskins Agree, proposed rules would be impossible to enforce.  That said I'm very much in favor of NFL "legislating" against the Redskins name.

Junkjunk
Junkjunk

And sadly, you've established yours.

tarheel2
tarheel2

@Junkjunk @Redskins And I'm also sure you are in favor of legislating against the Bengals as well.  These poor animals are being defamed by Cincinnati using their name.

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