By Zach Oseran
The N-word. A word that is racially charged, yet at the same time a common phrase in the vernacular of sports culture. It’s a word that is rooted in our country’s history of oppression and discrimination. It simultaneously has the power to divide and perhaps indicate a sign of respect or endearment between athletes.
But it doesn’t belong in sports just as much as it doesn’t belong in our vocabulary.
Recently, the NFL has begun to talk about the possibility of banning the controversial word from the game, instituting penalties for on-field usage.
But if the NFL is going to ban the N-word, why not ban all discriminatory language and swear words? Why is it OK to say one word is worse than other offensive language that is targeted against players of certain sexual orientations, gender identities or ethnicities?
In an interview with Sports Illustrated earlier this month Seattle Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman said: “It’s almost racist, to me. It’s weird they’re targeting one specific word. Why wouldn’t all curse words be banned then?” Sherman makes a good point. If this word gets banned, shouldn’t every other derogatory slur also be banned?
With the current state of sports culture, terms like N-word and F-word have no place in the game of football.
That being said, how can the NFL regulate such a thing? Although discussions seem preliminary at this point, the NFL could institute player fines or team penalties on the field when players use such language.
Ideally, issuing such penalties would incentivize athletes to clean up their on-field language.
This problem becomes increasingly important as the NFL increases its use with microphone technology during national broadcasts.
Another interesting, perhaps more effective suggestion by journalist Robert Klemo of Sports Illustrted, was the idea of educating younger players in the league about the implications of using discriminatory language.
“It has to start with education, not just penalties. Otherwise, players are going to feel like they’re being targeted, and they won’t respond well,” Klemo said. “It will take an education process that lasts a long time, in terms of either trying to convince these guys that it’s not a good word to use, or trying to convince them that for their own benefit they shouldn’t use it.”
Educating young athletes coming into the league about the impact of this violent language could be a great way to dissolve the use of slurs and demeaning language in the league.
Although it is unlikely the NFL will begin to penalize players this upcoming season for using such terms on the field and in the locker room, starting the discussion shows that the league is moving in the right direction.
It’s time to clean up the language of professional athletes, regardless of racial, sexual and gender identities.
It’s time to educate them on the implications of the language they are using. NFL players and athletes are role models for millions of children and fans around the world.
They should keep that in mind when they open their mouths.