On Why Legislating Language Isn’t The NFL’s Job

So, Roger Goodell’s quest to Protect the Shield has reached its new nexus: legislating the language of his players.

The league is expected to adopt a new policy which will penalize a player (and his team) 15 yards for any instance of said player uttering the “n-word” under any circumstances while on the field of play.

This rule is not yet officially on the books, awaiting the decision of the NFL’s rules committee meeting next month, but it already has hit the media waves with the same about of gusto as the “Nick Saban” rule proposal from a few weeks ago.

The man responsible for killing all the fun in college football.

The man responsible for killing all the fun in college football.

Pundits, talking heads and others have weighed in on the idea, and one such editorial, published today on ESPN.com, argues the rule “s a great step toward the culture change that should be force-fed to the NFL and its players if they won’t take the necessary steps on their own,” according to Dan Graziano.

Is that right, white guy? Middle-aged white guy? Telling players that saying “the word” isn’t okay because you say it isn’t okay? Right, okay, that makes a good deal of sense.

Look, I’m not saying the Word is good. It’s not. It’s painful, it’s insensitive, and (at least for white people) it’s cultural suicide in today’s era, where every public appearance is tweeted and YouTubed and Vined and Linked In…ed. Riley Cooper may in fact be an ignorant redneck, and he did in fact scream the word loudly at a concert last summer. He was fined an undisclosed amount and briefly sent away from the team.

Then, he came back and caught a few touchdowns, Nick Foles made the Eagles relevant again in the post-Vick era, and most NFL fans forgot about it.

That's right. This Napolean Dynamite stunt double plays professional football, and threw seven TD passes in a game.

That’s right. This Napolean Dynamite stunt double plays professional football, and threw seven TD passes in a game.

The reason I bring this up is simple: the Eagles aren’t concerned with forwarding racial equality or enforcing civil rights. They’re a business, and Cooper’s outburst was bad for business. Ticket sales fall, merchandise sales fall, TV viewership falls, and everyone is unhappy.

The NFL, too, is a business. A multi-billion dollar behemoth that, above all else, has been built by Goodell to protect “the brand,” and the brand won’t stand idly by while its players act like human beings and besmirch it.

Yes, I think people should be more cognizant of their speech patterns, and we live in an age where anyone using the Word is automatically labeled racist, backwards, and hatefull. That’s not the argument. The argument here is the right the NFL has to legislate the language of the men under its employ.

Should an owner or coach, during a press conference, call out an opposing player by calling him the Word? Absolutely not. Coaches (and players, and other on-field personnel) are beings born of competition.

Does anyone else believe the fact that the NFL front office, which is almost exclusively made up of ridiculously wealthy old white guys is in any position to ban a word used almost exclusively (in a negative fashion) by old white guys?

Look, I get that black people say the word. I sat here in one of my classes today and listened to a student on his cell phone say it about a dozen times over the course of a two-minute conversation. Was the usage hateful? Not from my end. Did it set my teeth on edge, a little? Absolutely. However, I don’t believe it’s my place to ask him not to say it.

To be blunt, I think the world we live in is one in which black people are allowed to say the Word with impunity, and they’ve earned that right. It doesn’t bother me that I’m not allowed to say it, per se, but the way our society has structured the trained response to hearing the Word creates something like this:

When a black person says it to anyone, black people (in general, I’m assuming, please correct me if I’m wrong) think nothing of it. White people are terrified, because we’ve been trained to be. We act like it’s just another word like corn, or boondoggle, or canasta, because if we do anything else we’ve drawn attention to it.

When a white person says it to anyone (except other white people who say it) they are immediately a pariah. A backward, ignorant, racist hick who devalues black people into animals fit for nothing but agricultural or domestic work.

Keep in mind, these ideas are what we’ve been trained to think, and are therefore not inherently right or wrong; they’ve been conditioned into us.

So, back to the NFL. Let’s ignore for a moment the fact that one of the league’s franchises uses the name Redskins. The delicious irony being, of course, two-fold: one, that the team boasts a ridiculously popular black quarterback (a position largely and almost laughably dominated by white men), and two, that the team would stand to make millions upon millions of merchandising dollars should they decide to change the team’s name (and therefore force legions of fans to re-purchase team-branded gear).

The league actually expects to tell black players (who, I’d be willing to bet, without any kind of scientific evidence to back this up, say the Word approximately 678,576 times more often than white players) they can’t say a word they’ve turned into something allowed, and even celebrated, in their own culture?

Please hang up and try again.

Please hang up and try again.

There is no way, in the chaos, noise and general buffoonery that is a professional football field, a referee is going to a) be able to hear it, b) be able to tell who said it, and c) enforce the rule. Any player will fight it, because he doesn’t want to be the goat that cost his team 15 yards on a vital, potentially game-winning drive because he’s proud to be a black man.

I’m surprised the Executive Director of the NFLPA, DeMaurice Smith, hasn’t said anything about this yet. Smith is black, and successfully managed to create a collective bargaining agreement with the (remember, overwhelmingly white) NFL owners which didn’t involve forty acres and a mule; he’s a man who knows what his players need.

Roger Goodell has no right to tell his players, whether they be white, black, Latino, Asian, Native American or Martian they must be forced to not be offensive. Not racist, but offensive. The Word is not a racist term when used by black people, no matter what some may think. This is the world we live in, people, and you should get used to it. The NFL just wants the world to think they care about racial equality and respect, and more importantly, to forget about player safety issues.


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