By Chris Hoenig
ESPN host Michael Wilbon is so against the NFL’s consideration of a penalty for using the N-word on the field that he used the term on air to prove a point during a network show highlighting the common use of the N-word.
The league’s competition committee has already discussed the new rule—which would penalize teams 15 yards for a first offense and result in a player being ejected for a second infraction—and it is expected to be voted on by team owners in late March.
Reverend Al Sharpton, in a special column for the New York Daily News, said he sees the rule as “a good first step” but believes the penalties need to be harsher. “It ought to be immediate termination with the player having the right to all due process,” he wrote. “If we don’t take an unequivocal stand on the N-word, what happens when openly gay athletes are mocked with the F-word on the field or players use anti-Semitic or anti-Irish words. We must send a message that all derogatory words are unacceptable and will face maximum penalty.
“Any excuse is unacceptable.”
Wilbon, however, does see an excuse. During an episode of his show, Pardon the Interruption, Wilbon initially expressed his “massive problem” with the plan. “So you’re gonna have a league with no Black owners and a white commissioner—middle-aged and advanced-aged white men—say to Black players, mostly—because that’s what we’re talking about—’You can’t use the N-word on the field of play, or we’re gonna penalize you,'” he said.
“I’ve got a massive problem with that. I don’t think it’s gonna happen. I know there are Black men of the same age—John Wooten being one of them—who say, ‘No, you’ve got to take this word out of the workplace.’ I understand that. But I don’t want it enforced like this.”
He followed that up by appearing on Outside the Lines, another ESPN show, to discuss his earlier comments.
“I had somebody call me after we got into this discussion on PTI. And I had many somebodies—public figures, professional athletes, politicians, religious leaders—call me, and they would say—and I’m going to say exactly what was said to me— ‘My n****, I’m glad you said this. I’m glad you have that position.’ And they texted it, or wrote it, or spoke it on a voicemail.
“And it was absolutely endearing. And that is powerful. It is entirely, to me, about who uses it.”
Though a few people agreed with Wilbon’s position, many took to Twitter questioning his argument.
— Reginald Ferguson (@The1Reg) February 26, 2014
— Barton Thorne (@bartonthorne) February 24, 2014
Mike Wilbon doesn’t think the N word should be penalized and also uses it on live TV, but in same breath says Redskins should change name.
— Karl Safchick (@KarlSafchick) February 24, 2014