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One of the headlines swirling around the National Football League Scouting Combine this week was the revelation that the NFL is in the process of considering a penalty for using the N-word on the field. The flag would be considered unsportsmanlike conduct, resulting in a 15-yard penalty.
The new rule would also affect every locker room in the NFL and would also be enforced for homophobic slurs.
The rule was suggested by the Fritz Pollard Alliance Foundation, a group led by former African-American player John Wooten. The FPA’s mission is to “promote diversity and equality of job opportunity in the coaching, front office and scouting staffs of the National Football League.”
The foundation sent out a press release in November stating that it is “time to put an end to the ‘N’ word on NFL playing fields.”
This press release came just three weeks after a reported incident in the locker room of the Miami Dolphins. In late October, offensive lineman Richie Incognito was suspended indefinitely for “conduct detrimental to the team.”
It was later released that Incognito had been hazing second-year player Jonathan Martin by sending him nasty voicemails full of racial slurs and threats to himself and his family, as well as bullying him in the locker room.
After four months, independent investigator Ted Wells released a 144-page report two weeks ago, detailing all of the activity that went on between Incognito and Martin. In light of the report, the NFL has some decisions ahead.
At the NFL Scouting Combine this week, Ozzie Newsome, general manager of the Baltimore Ravens and member of the NFL’s competition committee, said discussions have started in the NFLCC and it could be presented to team owners for vote on the rule as early as March.
As you can see from my photo at the top of this column, I have never had this word used against me. But I have heard it being thrown around, and I can’t fathom why the word is used at all. Others have differing opinions to this word, and I respect their views as well.
But in the end, it comes down to respect. Sportsmanship should not be a dying practice. It is the fundamental lesson that sports teaches its participants.
The NFL was the first of the four major professional sports to integrate players. Kenny Washington, former star at UCLA, was the first African-American player to be signed to an NFL team. He played three seasons for the Los Angeles Rams, beginning in 1946.
Thirteen months later, on April 15, 1947, Jackie Robinson made his debut for the Brooklyn Dodgers. Most of us know the story of how he endured every racial slur and threat that came his way. One can only imagine what Mr. Robinson would think of the culture nowadays.
Three years later, Earl Lloyd became the first African-American to play in the NBA. In 1958, Canadian Willie O’Ree broke the color barrier in the National Hockey League. The rest is history. Today, over 70 percent of NFL players are non-Caucasian.
It is also similar in the NBA. Miami Heat star Chris Bosh was asked this week if he thinks the NBA should implement a similar penalty for the N-word. Bosh stated that all slurs should be banned. I wholeheartedly agree. No doubt, with openly gay athletes coming out now, other slurs will break out.
I will close with a quote from Wooten, who said he would be shocked if the competition committee doesn’t decide to present the new rule to the owners:
“As former players (along with thousands of others) who have worked hard in different eras of the game to leave proud legacies for those who follow us, we are appalled and extremely disappointed to learn that the worst and most derogatory word ever spoken in our country is being used during games as well as casually in the locker room.”
After being the first professional sport to break the color barrier, the NFL should also be the first to implement policies to deter degrading and derogatory words. And hopefully other sports will follow.