By Brian Harris
The National Football League is considering making a change to its rulebook for the upcoming season, making any use of the N-word worth a 15-yard penalty and a automatic first down. This proposed change to the rulebook has been heavily lobbied for in the past few years by an organization called the Fritz Pollard Alliance Foundation, which acts as watchdog group for racial diversity in the NFL.
The head of the organization, former NFL offensive line John Wooten has being asking for this change since last season where a player, Trent Williams of the Redskins was alleged to have called an umpire, Roy Ellison, a N-word. This along with the bullying scandal involving Richie Incognito and Jonathan Martin of the Miami Dolphins has reported use of both racial and homophobic language. The scandal has brought into the spotlight the use of the type of language that used by players in both the locker and on the field.
There are a couple of questions that come to mind in regards to this proposed rule change. The first one is how does the NFL expect its’ officials to enforce this proposed policy with any sort of regularity? As anyone who ever completed in high school, Little League, Pop Warner or even pickup games at the park knows that in the heat of competition, the trash talking between players goes from simple chiding about skill levels to words being tossed around that you wouldn’t use in front of your grandmother. It just happens that way and it’s an universally understood thing.
I understand the feelings of Wooten and others when it comes to the use of the N-word by today’s society and it’s been a hot topic in this country for decades. But now the pushing of a penalty for the use of the word by players in the heat of battle during a game as being worthy of something like facemasking or pass interference. Doing that almost lessens the importance of the debate and controversy that comes with the word. On another note, with everything that goes on during the course of the game, how do the NFL expect its officials to now keep their collective ears open for a particular word while they have to be on the look out for the other infractions that can take place on any given play. All this would do is make their already-hard job even harder.
The other problem that I have about this potential rule change is how hypocritical it is. How can Wooten and his committee, along with NFL commissioner Roger Goodell and the rest of the league be behind the punishing of players that use a derogatory term toward a particular group of people while one of the teams in the league, the Washington Redskins, is named after another derogatory term for an ethnicity. You can’t have one thing penalized while doing nothing about the other; it comes across as disingenuous to not only your fans but the rest of the country as well.
This is yet another example of how sports can be a petri dish for a much larger and more important sociological topic to America at large. However, before they tackle this particular topic, the NFL and its decision makers need to come up with a plan that comes across as both well thought out and something that spur some serious societal change.