NFL Considers Banning the “N” Word during Games. Thoughts?


March 4, 2014 by gregrabidoux2013

Richard  sherman N word

It’s like “N’ this and “N” that, it’s just our thing.

The National Football League (NFL) is considering imposing a game day ban on use of the “N” word. The proposal would have referees give an initial warning for first offense and then a 10 yard penalty for any offense thereafter. The proposal, if approved, would cover infractions both from usage between players as well as any “N” word directed at referees from players or coaches.

The response, at least among current players, is mixed. Richard Sherman, a safety with the Super Bowl Champion Seattle Seahawks and notorious “trash talker,” thinks any move to “ban” or reduce the “N” word among the league is “atrocious.” He is not alone in his opposition to the ban.

Several players have responded by saying that it (the word) is part of the game’s culture and so commonplace that, as one player put it, the word is said as often as “Hey, or How are you?”

It would be like “telling us not to breathe” added another player who wished to stay anonymous.

In an interesting twist though, a few players support such a ban, arguing the usage of the offensive (at least to some) word has gotten “out of hand” but that using the “N” word with an “a” at the end and not an “er” makes all the difference in the world.

Apparently, many players feel the N***a word connotes toughness, being a “thug” (but in a good way) and is no different than calling a player or teammate a “bro.”

This is in contrast to what some feel is the opposite meaning of N***er. They feel this word, steeped in historical racism is still too closely tied to slavery and racial bigotry and brutality.

But there’s more. Some players feel that either version of the “N” word is fine so long as it is one Black player addressing another Black player but not if a White or Caucasian players uses it to address or speak about a Black player. As one player put it, “It’s our thing not theirs.”

Bieber holding crotch

But what about Canadian hip-hoppers? Should I use the “a” or the “er” version? What would Jay-Z do?

Okay, I admit I am a bit bewildered here. Maybe a little perspective from those who’ve made it their business to dig into the “N” word and its use more than I is needed.

Cornel West, a noted African-American scholar and author of Race Matters, where he discusses the history and evolution of our society’s use of the “N” word, believes it is still a derogatory and offensive word. Yet, he also appreciates its power and widespread use in Hip-Hop and Rap music.

Oprah Winfrey has said she was shocked to hear both White and Black fans at a Jay-Z concert repeatedly screaming the “N” word in apparent approval throughout the concert. Ms. Winfrey feels the word is still too closely tied to the days of slavery, oppression and racially motivated violence. “Every time I hear it (the “N” word) all I can think of is a Black man being lynched and the last word he hears is that.”

oprah winfrey

Do we really want to disagree with Ms. Oprah?

The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) “buried” the word in a mock funeral a few years back. The NY City Council passed a formal resolution “banning” the word in a symbolic gesture.

Comedian Bill Cosby and Harvard Professor Alvin F. Poussaint released a book together in 2007 called Come On, People. Their message was to discourage use of the N-word and the role of rap music in popularizing the slur. In their words,

“Gangsta rap promotes the widespread use of the N-word to sell CDs among people of all ethnic groups. In fact, the audience for gangsta rap is made up predominantly of white youth, who get a vicarious thrill from participating in a black thug fantasy…. Black youth, as well as some misguided adults, have defended the use of the N-word, suggesting they are somehow making it a positive term. Don’t fall for that nonsense. The N-word is a vile symbol of our oppression by slave masters.”

gangsta rap

We wouldn’t be nearly as wealthy if we did “Gangster Rap”…it’s gotta be “Gangsta Rap,” see?

But then doesn’t any word possess only the power that we grant it?

Isn’t it possible to create a new, more hip meaning of a word such as the “N” word by refusing to attach, in this instance, any historical negative significance to its use?

Certainly, today’s younger generation, comprised in part by NFL players (average age is 26) seems to believe this is possible, even probable, based on how frequent they use the word to address each other. No different than ‘Bro’ or ‘Man’ as one has said.

So, is it just the old, fuddy-duddy generation of both Blacks and Whites that just don’t “get it?”

And what about free speech? Can’t a player say the “N” word with an “a” or an “er” if he wants to, this is still the US of A isn’t it?

True. But not without consequences. At least according to the US Supreme Court. In its landmark case, Chaplinsky v New Hampshire (315 US 568, 1942) the Court drew a distinction between speech with no redeeming value, such as “offensive language” or “fighting words” and other more constitutionally protected speech like political debate.

A few years later, the Court clarified its position further in Terminiello v Chicago (337 US 1, 1949) saying that speech which is meant to “incite violence” such as racial or religious bigotry or hatred is the least protected form of speech under our First Amendment guarantee of freedom of speech.

So, essentially, sure go ahead an say “it” but don’t expect to be protected later.

But then again, it’s hard to imagine our Supreme Court Justices calling each other “N” and hip-hopping in their black robes.

US S ct pic

Hey, we’re hip…you’d be surprised what goes on in our chambers…okay, maybe not.

Look, if this was 1958 it’d be really hard to conclude that the NFL players were not intending to express hatred or to utter a racially motivated slur by using the “N” word during games.

But it’s 2014. Is the NFL about 56 years late with such a proposed ban?

NFL Roger Goodell

Look, I made $44 million last year, so players can call each other whatever they like.

And is it realistic to expect athletes in the heat of battle to restrain themselves from uttering insults or invectives at each other, even referees that they may not (well, maybe) utter in less intense moments?

NBA player Joakim Noah was fined $15,000 for a recent profanity-laced tirade during a game. He used that other multi-faceted word in our English language (the “F” bomb) toward referees and got his wrists (metaphorically) slapped. A little.

The “F” bomb, is also without redeeming social value according to the Court. Try telling that to Hollywood legendary film director Martin Scorcese. His scripts would go from about 300 pages to about 100 in one fell swoop if you took out all the “F” bombs.

Still, because of its negative connotations, this one word, describing the color black, derived from the Spanish and Portuguese language (negro) with Latin roots (niger) and distorted into a racially offensive slang word for decades continues to stir controversy.

Maybe former boxing champ and conscientious war objector Muhammad Ali captured the core of this word’s ugly meaning best when he declared, “No Vietcong ever called me “N,”…I got no beef with them.”

One thing’s for sure. The word isn’t going away any time soon. But maybe, just maybe, it’s a leopard who’s changed its spots into stripes.

But then I am Caucasian. Maybe it’s something I’m not meant to ever fully understand.







38 thoughts on “NFL Considers Banning the “N” Word during Games. Thoughts?

  1. Tyler W says:

    Honestly I do not think this rule will pass. As a former football player I know what goes on during games and you can not control players mouths. They are going to say what they want to say especially when non athletes say it constantly. Rappers and comedians are always saying it in their songs and skits. Although I don’t think it will pass, I do believe that it would be a good idea. People jumped all over Paula Dean when she said it but players in the NFL don’t get penalized

  2. Camille W says:

    Considering the logic in this article, I would say that the only reason that the NFL is trying to ban the usage of the word because everyone cannot use it. Some people consider it offensive, yet other consider it cultural. I can understand that the word may cause fury between players and it may derogatory towards children. The law is only being implemented because of the word itself, but if you take it away then it will only replaced with something else.

  3. Wade M says:

    From my perspective, I feel that the N word or any other form of expression or tone that comes across as derogatory should be enforced in the NFL. These professional athletes are very well paid and are on a world stage. The least that they can do is set a better example for others to follow and if they are professional, they should also act that way. Some of their current behavior would never be tolerated in the average workplace.

    • Christie S says:


      I absolutely agree! It does not matter who is using the word, it is offensive. Many words are used to lightly today, and I think that players should remain professional. Many of these of these athletes are role models and should act like it on and off of the field.

  4. Barbara B says:

    There were a lot of noteworthy positions mentioned in this post. My personal opinion, though, is that no one should use the “N” word regardless of connotation, race, or any other of the stipulations that have been deemed to make its usage okay. I also am aware that there is nothing that can be done to control the mouth of any living, breathing creature who possesses the ability to speak. With that being said, if the players as a whole (or the majority) in the NFL do not find a problem with the usage of the word, who am I to say if they can or cannot? At this point in my adult-life, I’m content with knowing the word does not offend me. The “N” word cannot be used to make me feel a way any more than words like ugly or stupid can. In order to degrade me or make me feel less than I know that I am, one would have to use a much bigger, much more personal, and true-to-life word than the “N” word.

  5. Jasen P says:

    I believe that racism is still alive today because of people that think every thing that someone says or does is racist even though it’s done in joking or between friends. A lot of these people in this day in time don’t use the word N***a in a derogatory term but use it as a word for their best friend no matter if they are white or black. I feel that this new generation is trying to get rid of racism all together but the older generation is keeping it alive because they are still living in the past.

  6. Kay A.L. says:

    I agree with several students here. I do believe that the NFL may be making it a bigger deal because everyone can’t use it and that the older generation is constantly reminding the new generation of slavery and racism. First, I don’t think banning the word is a good idea because honestly, calling someone a n***a is a habit. Habits are really hard to break so penalizing someone for using a term they have spent a lot of time using isn’t fair. Yes, there is a HUGE difference between putting an -a or -er at the end. However, the black community DOES take that difference seriously. All jokes come to an end the moment I hear 1 of my friends put the -er on the end although I know they are playing. It may sound complicated to someone who doesn’t use the word often, but black people do recognize the difference and stray away from the -er. I don’t blame the older generation for constantly reminding us because they dealt with racism a whole lot more than we do, but in all honesty, the new generation still has their way of being racist. Last but not least, YES, black people sometimes get offended when a Caucasian male/female uses the “N” word. Some don’t get offended because they know the Caucasian is cool through years of friendship, not meaning any harm by it, and/or says it privately. Others do get offended because then they assume that their ancestors didn’t like African Americans so they’re saying it to be offensive. It’s a little hard to understand, but it’s become socially acceptable unfortunately.

  7. LaMoya N says:

    The N word should be banished everywhere. I think that it is atrocious for a NFL player to think that he needs derogatory language just to play well. Children look up to them and they wish to be like them, so they should have no problem clearing up their language. I bet if this rule fell through, they would still perform well for the money and it would send a positive image to America. If role models keep using inappropriate language, then they will raise up a generation that thinks that it is cool for you to use this word. As reference to the fact that some people cannot use this word, if you do not want others to say it then you should not say it. By them saying that white individuals cannot say it, it proves that the word should not be said at all. I really hope this rule falls through. It will definitely get America’s attention if it does.

  8. Daphney Y says:

    I have mixed feelings about this subject. I can see both sides of the spectrum, mostly because I am half Caucasian and half Black, but I find myself saying the “N” word quite often. I would not say it to just anybody. I only say that to my brothers, my boyfriend, and some of my really close friends. Between us it is acceptable because it is just a sign of extreme closeness, but I would NEVER say that word to any of my elders or people who I do not know very well. I would never want to offend anyone, but on the other hand, however, it is pushing ignorance to a peak. Doesn’t everyone have issues with ignorance? Everyone is ignorant about at least one subject. Banning a slang word from American Football and giving penalties for it will just incite anger among the players, and then the game wouldn’t be about just being a good player. How hard would it be for you to up and stop saying a word in your everyday dictionary? Every time they slip up and say it they will get a penalty, so the game would become pointless because I know that there is no way anyone is going to keep them from saying what they feel is okay. Who wants to watch a football game that is interrupted every single play for a 10 yard penalty? I know I wouldn’t!

    • Daphney—Thoughtful comment, especially given your own background. To me it’s fascinating from strictly a history of words how over time and to new generations it has taken on a neutral, even “cool” meaning as opposed to what it represented for decades. Maybe that is the ultimate “revenge” against those who would use the word to insult or denigrate, now when “they” use it maybe it has lost its power to hurt. Maybe.

  9. Taylr T. says:

    Recently I have tried to refrain from using the n word as well. Although it can be viewed as a term of endearment, often times it does make those aorund you somewhat uncomfortable, especially in a public setting (i.e. around elderly people or children). Regardless of the rule, players in the NFL are grown men and trying to regulate what they say on or off the field, is pointless. If they want the rule banned, they have to determine if the word is offensive in all situations or harmless, and that may help (or hinder) a final decision.

  10. cbragg says:

    I think that it shouldnt be a problem to ban this word or cursing as a whole in the NFL. If they are going to ban the ‘N word’ then they should just penalize for using common curse words as well. Many people question the use of this word because of its history and even if a single black person says its offensive then the NFL should take that into consideration, though im sure they have. I personally see no problem with it, but if they are going to take away one, what seems to be, curse word, then they should ban them all.

  11. Nia R says:

    It is obviously a too little too late situation with trying to ban the word. The only reason that it is somewhat being banned is because the word cannot be used by everyone on the field without a consequence or feel of racial inequality. Many black people use the word just for fun and because that is what black people do. I use it all of the time in casual conversation with another black person. The word is always something that will be a one sided thing when it comes to who is able to use the word. The word will always be offensive to black people when the wrong people say and use it.

  12. Erik C says:

    Honestly to me the N word isn’t a big deal anymore. People mostly us it ending with an “a” instead of “er” now. Banning this word would really be pointless because it really isn’t a racist term unless people want to blow it out of proportion and act like it is. Banning this word will just give the NFL another stupid reason to fine them and take their money.

  13. Lauren T says:

    I don’t support, neither am I for the ban of the “N” word. I feel like there should be other things that could be focused on, especially if the players aren’t offended by the use of the word. Nowadays, the “N” word is becoming a part of many people’s everyday language. When it’s said, it isn’t meant to harm, disrespect, or make anyone uncomfortable. If they ban the “N” word, then they should ban other curse words.

  14. Ben N says:

    It’s surprising that the African american society would embrace a word that is usually referring to a poor, uneducated, piece of trash. Growing up in the south, I knew that it was not okay to call anyone a nigger and learned the history of the word and its connotations. Nigger not only refers to a black person, but the worst type of them. It is important to understand what the word means before you consider banning it. Although the mean has been water downed, especially in the African american community, it still is not something anyone would wish to be called. I think the word should be banned because it is a racial slur and the NFL should label it under hate speech.

  15. Dominique E says:

    The NFL rule book states that profanity in general is not prohibited, but when it is directed to other players in a disrespectful way, it can be penalized. I believe that that is how it should stay. Making a penalty for using the “N word” is a really bad idea. I feel as though many black players use the word with each other in a non-offensive way. There are many ways that this penalty would create more negativity than it prevents. Adding this penalty would just change something that has nothing to do with the actual game.

  16. Rebecca C says:

    Well for starters, I’m not sure I agree that the word should be “banned,” but I do believe that if should have penalties just as any other vulgar language would. One thing I do not agree with is that the African Americans state that the N word is “their word.” What is that suppose to mean? It ‘s okay for them to say it but not the Caucasians? That is nonsense. Why is it that okay? Can the whites claim that it’s only okay for them to say “bro” or something along those lines? No, because that would then be racist, claiming the word only for themselves. I think the NFL would be doing a good thing to restrict the word. Yes, it may take some time for people to get use to it because it is so commonly used, but it’s possible.

  17. Gabrielle Reed says:

    In today’s world, the “n” word is a term that is apart of the slang us young people use. I often find myself using the vulgar word. As contradicting as it may sound,although i use it occasionally with my peers, i do not agree with the word itself. I do believe that that word should banned in all instances whether it be the NFL, NBA, or just everyday use. Some may say that only black people can use the word, which is something I find very ignorant. The word should NOT be used regardless of race. It is a term that was coined in a negative light and will always be this way.

  18. Chris Henderson says:

    I believe this ban would not be smart. The “N” word is used so often in language without even thinking about it that it would cause many penalties and it would hurt the NFL more than help it. Even though banning it would help decrease the use of the word, but I think it would be more of an issue than help.

  19. Michael M says:

    I feel banning this word would not be wise for the National Football League. Much like Chris H. said the word is so often used i can only see this leading to many penalties that would just hinder the viewer than it would do any good. To most athletes this word has become almost second nature. Although, I do not think the word should be used in any case I feel, in terms of entertainment, that the word shouldn’t be banned due to the possible excessive amount of penalties.

  20. Ariel says:

    First of all, this article was just amazing and very-well written. I think that this ban would be amazing (although I’m not sure about losing yardage for it). I know some people do not care if others use this word, some do not want anyone using it, some are okay with certain people using it, and some are okay depending on the phrasing. I feel this is a little difficult to determine; thus, it would be easier to just but a ban on it. The dolphins had a bullying incident get out of control and part of the issue was the derogatory use of the “n” word. The public was outraged that the NFL would allow the use of this word and of bullying; however, now they are going to complain the NFL is trying to do something. The line is easy to cross, and I believe this is a step in the right direction. I do not like hearing others use the word, even if they are okay with it. I feel like players can “trash talk” without using this word. If everyone is not okay with it being said by all players, then there should be a ban. There was one white player who was caught using the “n” word on camera and people were furious. So, it is completely understandable that the NFL wants to ban this word.

    • Ariel-thanks for the feedback, a writer will always take compliments where s/he can get them…but more important of course are your thoughts on this matter. It’s been running about 70-30% against a ban on the word.

  21. Jermaine G says:

    I personally believe that even if they ban it, its going to get used. Once a word or action becomes an habit, its hard to break. How can somebody that don’t play the sport or be on the field at all feel offended if they are not the actual targets of the word. I feel the final decision should be on the ones actually on the field, like the referees, players, and coaches. If it really don’t offend them, then so be it. Who knows, maybe they let that word make them play harder. my personal opinion is to keep it legal as long as it is not used in a negative way,.

  22. Ryien B says:

    i agree with Sherman, this rule is atrocious. In my eyes, trash talking is a key component in every sport; and the more offensive the trash talking is, the better. If someone is trash talking you and you don’t like it, beat them. It’s simple. Every year the NFL thinks of something to make the sport weaker than the year before.

  23. Steve M says:

    I do not see this so-called rule ever passing or even if it did, being able to truly be enforced. These are athletes and as athletes they have their own language on the field and in the locker room. If one was to follow these guys/girls around outside of the arena I am willing to bet in most circumstances that they are for the most part the most polite folks around. The only thing that this so called rule will do is drive folks away from the sport as they have been doing in the past ten years and have now had to start looking outside of this country to fill spots that they use to have lines of folks waiting to get in. So good one NFL high and mighty folks, good job at driving folks away. Now back to your regularly schedule NASCAR race lol.

  24. Scarlett T says:

    This rule will never pass because if we haven’t gotten rid of the word in over 200 years I don’t see it happening in a month. However, the word is only a word but it reminds all people of a time of imprisonment and hardship. So why I ask would an African-American use this word to another man/woman of color? Why would you degrade yourself so much? A word cannot be a “positive word” in our society if we aren’t all allowed to use it. A black man can use it but not a white man? Seems a little racist to me….How about we not use the word altogether and start having a little bit more respect for ourselves gentlemen…

  25. Kirshana C says:

    I do not believe the word will get banned. Personally I do not use the word and I find it totally disrespectful in any way. I do not care to be greeted like that. I can understand why some people would like it banned because it is a word that reminds people of hard times. I do not understand though why people like using the word because I’m not sure how over the years it went from something degrading to something that means “bro.” I can see why some people feel like it is “their word” but I feel like nobody should use it. One moment it is okay for an African American person to call another African American person the word but the moment a Caucasian person says it there will be smoke in the city. Even if they were saying it in a “bro” aspect it is still considered a no no. If there is a song that uses this word a lot, I do not listen to it. To me there are so many other words that can be used but yet we chose to use that. That. Out of all the words.

  26. ldhodges says:

    I believe the word will not be banned, you cannot stop what comes out of a person’s mouth when they are playing sports or even get mad. I don’t think it is meant to be taken the way it is being presented. I don’t use the word and I really don’t care who uses it. as long as it is not directed to me or anyone close to me in a form of disrespect. The word just gets more popular by the day anyways, so it is a little too late to stop ignorance.

  27. Amber S says:

    I do not think that the word will be banned because honestly the “N” word is not used racially very often anymore. And the word N***a is something that literally everyone says. It has nothing to do with race period. I do not feel that football players get offended by the “N” word. I swear the media is always trying to bring up racial issues that usually did not exist as much as they make it out to be. It is just a new culture word that means “friend” or “pal”. It is really not that big of a deal!!

  28. Alison M. says:

    I do not agree with imposing a game day ban on the use of the N-word. A player stated the point that the N-word has a commonplace at games and is as similar as a greeting. Same goes true not just for the football field but the community. I hear that word used so often, even walking around campus. I personally think that the word isn’t that much of a big deal. If you choose to get offended please be my guest but you will continue to hear the word in conversations, rap songs, and everyday greetings. Even be honest with myself I’ve probably used the word at least one times today at least. If the NFL wants to ban the N-word they should ban all bad words. Because at the end of the day which for ballplayer, referee, or coach really goes home and says, “honey I’m so upset someone called me a n-word today on the field”. That should be there last worry. A person can only give words the power to affect them.

  29. wjwood says:

    This is probably not going to work because of the tremendous amount of trash talk that occurs between lines.I know its a mental thing also but if you are on NFL official you better by ready to put with a major amount of verbal abuse. I wouldn’t make a lot of sense to allow a string of f-bombs and then hear the n-word once and you flag someone. With that string of f-bombs you have to figure out what your line in the sand is and what you will allow from players and coaches.
    However, realize you make the wrong choice and your career will not advance unless you are an Ed Hochulli type legend. Hochulli, maybe a good official but when it comes to major blown calls and screw ups, he could be the equivalent of Mark Sanford. But they both kept their jobs so I guess they must be doing something right.

  30. Casey H says:

    I understand banning the word, but whether or not it passes the word is going to be used anyway. I suppose it’d be nice on paper to hear that it is banned, but I highly doubt it’ll ever make a difference.

  31. Jacki G says:

    I have mixed thoughts on this. I am Caucasian myself. I grew up playing many sports and have many African American friends. I remember once at a basketball game one of my teammates and long-time friend called me the N* word. I was not offended in any way but I was confused. I believe we were in high school when it happened. She saw how bewildered I looked when she called me that. She tried to explain that it was a term of endearment and that she was comfortable enough with me to say it.

    We had a long conversation about this term and I asked her how she would feel if a white person called her the same word. She said something to the effect of “If you said it, because we are so tight, I wouldn’t mind, but any other white person I am not close with, I wouldn’t have it.”

    I get where she was coming from. I don’t think I will ever fully be comfortable hearing this word and I know for a fact I will never use it. Considering its history, I don’t think white people should say this word. I really don’t. I had and still have other white friends who will say this to their very close black friends. The black friends are not offended whatsoever. I simply don’t think it is right for white people to say.

    With that being said, I don’t like the word, I don’t say it, I wont say it, but I don’t think a ban in NFL is very realistic. I played sports and I understand the frustration and passion behind playing them and how athletes get so caught up in the moment. Sometimes inappropriate words are sometimes the only thing that feels appropriate to say.

    I am curious to see how far this goes. I don’t know that I would be mad if it was banned, I just don’t think it would be effective and I don’t think it would really stop the use of the word elsewhere.

  32. Xenia J says:

    Wow! This is a deep topic and an excellent article. I am a 47 year old African American who grew up in the south. I don’t use the word and I don’t like to hear it. I have two daughters 24 and 21. Their use of the word has bothered me tremendously and I have talked to them about it so much that they now make fun of me. Their generation, and I know they didn’t start this trend, breaks all of the rules and even rejects the notion that some unwritten rules exist. For them, it is all about what it means to them and those in their circles. In their view, I am an old lady who just doesn’t get it. My husband on the other hand, who has been a rap fan since our college days, has no issue with the word unless it is used by someone who is not African America. Since my own family is passionately divided over this issue, I see no end in sight to this debate.

    • Xenia-I have friends who tell me they too are split right down the middle, just reverse for them, the dad who is African=American is against the word, the Mom who is Caucasian is fine with it and the kids are split too!

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