Whether it is said with a hard “-er” at the end or a supposedly affable “-a,” the “n-word” has stirred controversy ever since its birth as a pejorative slur against African-Americans.
Use of this word is prevalent in a National Football League (NFL) that is almost two-thirds black, according to The Institute of Diversity and Ethics in Sport. The use of this racial slur in the NFL has been thrown into extra scrutiny this past season after two scandals involving Riley Cooper and Richie Incognito, both white NFL players, using the n-word towards an African-American.
In response to these events, John Wooten, a black former NFL player and the current chairman of the Fritz-Pollard Alliance for Diversity in the NFL, has urged the NFL to implement a rule next season that would allow referees to penalize a team 15 yards for use of the n-word on field.
Yet many players, analysts, and fans have expressed contempt for the proposed ban of the racial epithet.
“It’s an atrocious idea,” said cornerback Richard Sherman, of the Super Bowl champion Seattle Seahawks, to Sports Illustrated’s Peter King.
“It’s almost racist,” Sherman continued. “It’s weird they’re targeting one specific word. Why wouldn’t all curse words be banned then?”
Others agree, deeming the attempted rule change as an intrusion on African American rights. Like many words, the connotation behind the n-word changes depending on how it is used and who uses it. Blacks have used the n-word to refer to other blacks for centuries, and that usage is historically significant. If the NFL puts this new ban in place, it will require African Americans, exclusively, to conform to a restriction on part of their cultural identity.
In The Atlantic, Ta-Nehisi Coates wrote that the rule change “raise[s] a standard for African American humans that does not exist for non-African American humans” and is, therefore, discrimination.
“[This rule] focuses on Black folk being the problem because of how they choose to use [the n-word] amongst themselves,” said sports journalist Stephen A. Smith, calling the proposed rule “flagrant hypocrisy.”
Others believe that the ban would affect the game itself.
“Talking trash is a very important part of sports; everyone does it,” said West Ranch senior running back and avid NFL fan Christian Parrish.
“The n-word is just a way that we black players can get into other players’ heads,” said Parrish, who is African-American. “What happened to freedom of speech?”
The NFL’s annual League Meeting, at which this issue will likely be addressed, takes place from March 22-26 in Orlando, Florida.