NFL Expected to Penalize Use of N-Word

By Albert Lin

At its owners meeting in late March, the National Football League is expected to adopt a rule resulting in an automatic 15-yard penalty for any use of the N-word during a game.

John Wooten, Chairman of the Fritz Pollard Alliance, which monitors the league’s diversity, told “I will be totally shocked if the competition committee does not uphold us on what we’re trying to do. We want this word to be policed from the parking lot to the equipment room to the locker room. Secretaries, p.r. people, whoeverwe want it eliminated completely and want it policed everywhere.”

The rule would result in a 15-yard penalty for a player’s first use of the N-word during a game, with the player being ejected for a second use. The NFL’s competition committee will decide on the specifics of the infraction when it meets this weekend, and then it will present its proposal to the owners in Orlando.

“I think they’re going to do what needs to be done here,” Wooten said. “There is too much disrespect in the game.”

Critics, however, say the rule would be a mere Band-Aid on a larger problem. “The notion that a word representative of 400-plus years of slavery, rape and government-sanctioned violence, can be assuaged by a 15-yard penalty is downright offensive,” Jason Johnson, a Professor at Hiram College, wrote in the New York Daily News. “The NFL has plenty of racial problems, lack of black coaches and owners, not to mention racial bias with referees, but the use of racial slurs, let alone the N-word during games, isn’t one of them.”

Others say the rule might cause players to police themselves during games but that they would still use the N-word in the locker room and elsewhere.

The Fritz Pollard Alliance first called on players to stop using the N-word in November, following initial reports of the Miami Dolphins bullying scandal and an incident in which Washington Redskins offensive lineman Trent Williams reportedly directed the N-word at a referee. The alliance released a statement that read in part: “Simply put, from this day forward please choose to not use the ‘N’ word. Period! Do nottake the position that you are not bothered by the word. If you tolerate the language being used casually now, at some point in the future, either as a current or former player, you may hear it directed at you. How do you think you will respond We must eliminate the use of this horrible word in our wonderful game. Please join us to help make the NFL a great place to work and play.”

Baltimore Ravens General Manager Ozzie Newsome, a member of the competition committee, said that the committee has also discussed making sexist and homophobic slurs part of the rule. “I don’t want to get out in front of what the competition committee talked about over the past three days [at the NFL scouting combine],” Newsome said, “but we did talk about race and gender.”

Prospect Michael Sam recently announced that he is gay, and he hopes to become the first openly gay player in the league.

While some players believe this rule would be difficult to enforce, Newsome said the committee doesn’t agree.

“With any rule that we put into play, we have to look at it from A to Z and find out what are the unintended consequences as much as the consequences,” Newsome said. “But as it was stated in our meeting, there are mics everywhere. So, if something is being said, it’s probably going to be captured somewhere. So it would be an opportunity to get it verified if we had to.”

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