Monday, February 24, 2014

The problem with the NFL plan to crack down on the N-word

By Michael J.W. Stickings

According to Jason LaCanfora at CBS Sports:

John Wooten, head of the Fritz Pollard Alliance that monitors diversity in the NFL, said he expects the league's competition committee to enact a rule at the owner's meeting next month making it an automatic 15-yard penalty if a player uses the N-word on the field, with a second infraction meriting an ejection.

Wooten spoke about his desire to eradicate the word completely from NFL workplaces at the Fritz Pollard event during the combine, wanting it to be fineable and policed throughout team facilities, and received a standing ovation according to those in attendance. Wooten said he will continue being vigilant about this with the NFL office and Commissioner Roger Goodell.

"I will be totally shocked if the competition committee does not uphold us on what we're trying to do," Wooten said. "We want this word to be policed from the parking lot to the equipment room to the locker room. Secretaries, PR people, whoever, we want it eliminated completely and want it policed everywhere."

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Wooten said the competition committee will formally decide whether or not to support his measure at the meeting in March, and then present it to owners. Wooten is "extremely hopeful" it will pass.

"I think they're going to do what needs to be done here," he said. "There is too much disrespect in the game."

There certainly is, and while I'm generally concerned about any crackdown on language, because it's often the thin end of the wedge, and while in my view organizations that impose speech restrictions should be viewed with suspicion at the very least, it's hard to object to any effort to rid the NFL of a slur that, one imagines, is far too commonly used.

But is this really the right way to go about it? I mean, "nigger" is bad, of course, but what then? What about gay slurs? Shouldn't, say, "faggot" be eliminated from the NFL? Or how other racial slurs, whether directed at blacks or others? Are there not Latino and Asian slurs, for example, that ought to have no place in civilized society, if that is what the NFL is trying to be? Where exactly does it end?

Is "queer," for example, an acceptable word to use? What if, in future, a gay player uses it himself, perhaps even to describe himself? I certainly dislike it when a man calls a woman a "bitch," but what if "bitch" is used in a non-derogatory sense? Isn't the issue not so much the word, in most cases, but how it's used, that is, what the intent is?

Perhaps an expansion of unsportsmanlike conduct is warranted, and perhaps it should be left to the officials' discretion based on certain parameters. But singling out a word, and then maybe another one, and then another... But of course this could be broader even than that, with restrictions imposed off the field as well, and not just for players but for all team employees, everywhere. I'm sorry, but that's just stupid.

If the NFL wants to get rid of the N-word altogether, and certainly a workplace (including the world of professional sports) needs some restrictions on what is and is not acceptable language, it would be better to work with teams on education, and on establishing reasonable parameters, and then for teams to encourage their employees, both players and others, to adopt more appropriate language within parameters that are more flexible than a simple yes or no for any given word. Otherwise it's just an assault on speech that beyond a single word here or there makes little sense and that can lead to abuses against freedom of expression.

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