March 4, 2014 by gregrabidoux2013
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.”
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.”
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.”
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.
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?
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.