How detrimental to sportsmanship is the use of profanity during football games? This is the question the NFL must answer in lieu of the Competition Committee wanting to implement a 15-yard penalty for players who use the N-word on the field.
Two clear sides exist on this issue, and current and former players on both sides have spoken up about it.
Taking a stance on either side of this issue is difficult, because they both have valid arguments. However, I think that after trying to see the issue from all angles, the NFL should not create this penalty.
The N-word is very derogatory. I would never use it. I am also a skinny white guy with no way to relate to the stigma that comes along with that word. I think that African-Americans in general have more leeway on how to use the word, since its origin is a slight against their skin color.
Seattle Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman responded to the possible rule by saying that he hears the word many times in every single football game. Sherman said that when the word ends with “-er,” it is very racist, but when African-American people say it with the “-a” ending, it is okay.
Sherman came out against the idea, saying that it was “atrocious,” and saying that singling out that word for extra punishment is not right. To Sherman and many other black football players, it is a word that is used in a friendly way between players in practice, in the locker room and on the field.
While Sherman said that players use it with no negative connotation, Hall of Famer Harry Carson said that was impossible.
“I find it very disheartening that in our society today, we’re having a debate about the N-words being used a term of endearment,” Carson said on the Sunday after the NFL Competition Committee met. “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.”
According to Carson, growing up in South Carolina exposed him to a lot of racism and derogatory uses of that word.
The problem is that words are not innately wrong, but rather they are assigned meaning by groups of people. Intent is just as important as the actual words used.
The N-word is historically offensive, there is no doubt about that, but many young African-Americans do not find it offensive as long as they are only saying it to each other. I think it is their prerogative to hold that belief.
Because so many NFL players say it on and off the field with no offensive intent, it would be a bit ridiculous to make an all-encompassing rule to ban its use on the field. The word would constantly slip out with no ill intent and be followed by a game-changing penalty.
It would also be almost impossible to regulate. Players are constantly yelling on the field, and there are often many players speaking at once. Officials would have an enormous task to try and discern who said what.
A penalty that brands the offender as a racist is not something that should be handed out lightly. And what if an official gets the call wrong? What if he assigns the penalty to a player he thinks said it, when in reality the blame belonged to someone else?
What if the player given the penalty was a white man? What if he was falsely accused? He would be singled out as a racist and it could ruin his career.
There are too many ways in which this penalty could create more negativity than it prevents.
The NFL rulebook states that profanity in general is not prohibited, but when directed at other players in a taunting way, it can be penalized. That is how it should stay.
Making a penalty for using the N-word, a word that many black players use with each other in an arguably light-hearted and non-offensive way, is a bad idea. It would be a game-changing penalty that would have nothing to do with the actual game.
Just let the men play.