With the NFL recently announcing it is likely going to penalize players for using the N-word on the field, the topic has been up for some intense debate, especially among African-American players, former players, writers and commentators. Some say it’s a good step in the direction toward eventually eliminating the use of the word entirely while others think it’s going too far because it’s a part of the African-American culture. Both are valid points, but the NFL’s intention could have a much greater domino effect that would benefit everyone in and outside of the sports world, if successful.
African-American actor Morgan Freeman once said the only way to end racism is to stop talking about it. Well, if the use of the N-word were to cease altogether, racism would certainly endure a fatal blow. However, it can be argued that implementing a rule such as the one proposed by the NFL is causing the opposite effect by keeping it a topic of debate. So which way is the best for the ultimate goal of all?
That’s a hard question to answer, but if the use of the N-word is eliminated, would that not at least move us as a society in the direction of solving the problem? Let’s be real: Racism will never completely disappear, but it can be minimized to the point that it doesn’t affect society as a whole, which is exactly what the NFL is trying to do with this new movement. Will it work overnight? Absolutely not, but it’s certainly a step in the right direction.
The reason it’s more positive than negative is because of the other races of players who hear the word used on a regular basis from their African-American teammates. Out of the habit of hearing it daily, it then gets used by those players, which is where lines are crossed, which is exactly what happened in the Richie Incognito–Jonathan Martin case. Some African-American players have no issue with that, but that doesn’t apply to all of them, which means it’s still a problem at that point.
If the NFL penalizes players for use of the word, they would theoretically stop using it, just like many players have stopped taking head shots because of the new rules against it. Thus, an African-American player can still use the N-word in his home or with his group of friends outside of his work life if he chooses, which is indeed part of the African-American culture, as pointed out by notable personalities such as Michael Wilbon. But both sides can agree there: The word can be used as part of the culture while still being eliminated from the common use, where it can easily be misused, which keeps racism alive.
Is there a perfect scenario? No, but the NFL is on the right track and should be commended and supported because of it.