Should the NFL Ban the Use of the N Word?

Recently, my friend Isaac (I was given permission to use his name) reached out to me and suggested that I write a blog post about the NFL’s new ban on the use of the N word. He then decided that he wanted to pen his own thoughts on this topic so I was open to his desire to be a guest blogger. I’ve never had someone else write a post (though I welcome it) so the lawyer in me has the desire to say that the views and opinions expressed by Isaac are solely his own and do not reflect the views and opinions of LIST. I may share my thoughts on this post in the comment section, and I encourage you to do the same. I would love to dialogue and get people’s opinions on this topic.

The NFL is considering a new rule that would allow for the effective ban of the use of the “N” word on the field and possibly in locker rooms. The penalty for use on the field would be A 15 yard penalty would be implemented for use on the field and a monetary fine for use on other property owned by the NFL or one of its teams.

Throughout the remainder of this article I will spell out the actual word for educational purposes as well as to emphasize the difference in spelling and pronunciation that are used today. Let, me first start by saying that the word Nigger is a racist, abhorrent and vile word that has a history of pain and hatred. The word should never be used in any professional or public setting. The word Nigger has a complicated history. The actual origin of the word is unknown but I was told that it is basically a mispronunciation of the Spanish word Negro. The word was then used by the majority population as a term for inferior and less than human. To this day this word, when used by someone outside of the African diaspora, invokes a spirit of deep hatred, racism and xenophobia.

Today, the word Nigga is used commonly in the hip hop culture. It is simply a phonetic mispronunciation of the word Nigger by urban youths. The spelling using “er” was eventually replace with an “a” after several hip hop artist began to do so in the late 1980’s. The “a” was not added to differentiate the word Nigger from Nigga. In the late 80’s, and still to this day, urban youths began a practice of spelling words how they pronounce them instead of using their actual spelling. This was done with all words. For example, with became wit’, soldier became soljah, little became lil’, and so many more examples that I will not list (LIST: I’ll save my concern about what this has done to the academics of our youths for another post). However, at the time when NWA deemed them self Niggas With Attitude, you can best believe they meant Niggers.

The word Nigger, Nigga, or however else you want to spell it has been used by Blacks for a lot longer than the evolution of Hip Hip in the late 70’s and early 80’s. My parents, grandparents and great grandparents all used the term Nigger. This use was even in the height of the civil rights movement. At that time, the word was not used as a term of endearment. The word more so developed into a way for Blacks to challenge the use of the word by Whites. In other words, Blacks adopted the concept that if you want to call me a Nigger, well then I will show you just how much of a Nigger I can be. The word then evolved to be cool because in our society it sometimes cool to be bad. This is the same thing with the Hip Hop generation who are emulating their elders. Bad means good and being bad is cool. Nigga is just another way of saying I’m bad and you may not want to mess with me. What makes the word endearing, in a sick and twisted way, is that by calling you bad I am acknowledging your “gangsta” or superior street prowess.

So let’s get back to the NFL. There is now a generation of adults that grew up with the term bad meaning good. There is also a generation of adults that, because of music and television, grew up with the using the word Nigger in very public forums. Also, with professional sports we are in an era where physically talented inner city youths are exploited for their talents and education is secondary to those talents. I believe that the use of the “N” words (both of them) are acceptable in certain segments of the Black community. However, there used to be rules for its usage. We were never allowed to use the word in mixed company or publicize the use of the word.

Now that the word is used so freely among African-Americans, does it invite the use of the word by non-Blacks? Can Latinos use it, can Asians, can Whites use it with permission? The answer to that question is no. The reason is that no one person holds the copyright to the word. One black person may not care but another will be very offended.

With that in mind, the word should in no shape or form be legislated because it is too difficult to enforce. In order to enforce this rule accurately the NFL must be able to understand context. If an athlete is shouting the word Nigger to an opposing team member then he should absolutely be subject to a penalty. On the other hand, if he is speaking directly to a player on his own team then it should not be a penalty. Similarly, if I am in a private conversation, just because you can hear my conversation doesn’t mean that that conversation is any of your business.

Additionally, the NFL is 70% Black. I would venture to say that no White person is on the field calling a Black player a Nigger. If they did, a fight would likely ensue. Therefore, what the NFL is really trying to do is legislate how Black people talk to Black people. This is inappropriate and another example of White privilege.

A recent issue was raised with Trent Williams of the Washington Redskins (this is probably why the officials want to be able to call this penalty). Williams was called for a penalty and disagreed with the call. In expressing his frustration, it is alleged that he used the word Nigger in reference to the official who was White. Trent Williams denies using the word in reference to the official but this brings up a valid argument.

Sometimes, Black people used the word Nigger in a disparaging way towards each other and even other races. It is usually in the form of several curse words followed by the work Nigger for emphasis. This concept muddies the waters because when used this way, although not necessarily intended as a racist remark, it is still being used in a negative and hurtful manner. How do we handle the use of the “N” word? My answer is you don’t.  Again, if someone uses the word in a negative context then they are intending to demean you.  So if the NFL wants to penalize something then penalize the use of any disparaging term.  A rule stating that you cannot verbally attack an official would solve that whole issue without even touching the use of the “N” word.

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President Obama’s Gift to Minority Communities

Many people (including myself) have criticized President Obama for not sufficiently focusing on issues affecting minority communities. Black leaders have castigated Obama for not doing enough for “his people” since his tenure in the White House. I have vacillated in my opinion on how much President Obama can solely influence policy and change laws from the Oval Office. However, it disappoints me to see the continued suffering of minorities especially with our first African-American president leads our country. According to the National Journal:

  • the net wealth for Black families dropped by 27.1% during the recession;
  • currently, one in 15 African-American men is incarcerated, compared with one in 106 white men;
  • Blacks comprise 38% of inmates currently in state and federal prisons; and
  • although only 13.8% of the U.S. population, African-Americans represent 27% of those living below the poverty line.

When President Obama took office, many African-Americans were hopeful that the Executive Branch of our government would look out for their best interest. Last month, following the repeal of Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act, it was clear to African-Americans that the U.S. Supreme Court held the rights of gays and lesbians in America as more important than the rights of African-Americans. Congress continues to attempt to strike down ObamaCare and maintain an impasse on immigration reform. Congress has also stripped funding of the U.S. food stamp program while passing the Farm Bill pumping additional monies into the farm subsidy program—when was the last time you purchased produce or a cotton shirt that was grown or manufactured in the U.S.? Throughout all of the new policies and laws recently implemented by Congress, the African-American community continues to ask, “wassup with our Black president?!”

President Obama has been known to resist honing in on race-specific issues. Rather, he has chosen to focus his goals on improving the livelihood of the middle class. Obama’s specific speeches on race and blacks can be counted on one hand. In March 2008, then-presidential candidate/Senator Barak Obama delivered a speech in Philadelphia titled “We The People.” The speech was prompted by a racially charged sermon by the President’s former pastor, Reverend Jeremiah Wright. Obama spoke about being born “the son of a black man from Kenya and a white woman from Kansas.” He also recounted that “a lack of economic opportunity among Black men, and the shame and frustration that came from not being able to provide for one’s family, contributed to the erosion of black families—a problem that welfare policies for many years may have worsened.” He referenced the word “black” thirty-nine times during his speech. African-Americans galvanized following his speech focused on race, and eight months later elected him as our first Black president.

Throughout his time in office, President Obama has continued to live up to his creed that he is the “president of all America.” As president, members of Congress have criticized him for not doing more to focus on issues affecting Black communities. His next speech on race came five years later when he addressed the graduates at Morehouse College, an all-male HBCU. Although his speech was not primarily focused on race issues, Obama touched on the topic when he said:

We’ve got no time for excuses—not because the bitter legacies of slavery and segregation have vanished entirely; they haven’t. Not because racism and discrimination no longer exist; that’s still out there. It’s just that in today’s hyper-connected hyper-competitive world, with a billion young people from China and India and Brazil entering the global workforce alongside you, nobody is going to give you anything you haven’t earned. And whatever hardships you may experience because of your race, they pale in comparison to the hardships previous generations endured—and overcame.

Two months later, President Obama was back at a podium to discuss the issue of race. Following the national fallout of the George Zimmerman verdict for shooting Trayvon Martin, Obama came to a press briefing in the White House where he gave unprepared remarks (days after putting out a lackluster statement on the incident) on being a black male in the United States. Despite all of these speeches about race, President Obama has not supported his statements with evidenced changes within the black community—or so I thought until this past Monday.

While Obama selected his cabinet for his second term in office he was chastised by the lack of minorities in leadership positions. As he named his new selections, the cabinet was gearing up to consist of fewer women and minorities than his first term. The man I elected to lead our country—TWICE was bemusing me! But, this Monday I finally saw the big picture. President Obama didn’t have to make speeches on race and overtly state that he had my back and the back of minorities in this country. He made that clear, when on December 1, 2008 he nominated his friend Eric Holder, to become the U.S. Attorney General.

Eric Holder is the 82nd U.S. Attorney General and the first African-American to hold this position. He has been criticized, chastised and held in contempt by members of Congress, and despite the reproach he has continued to hold his own and carry out his duties as the highest-ranking government attorney in the United States. When the Supreme Court overturned a portion of the Voting Rights Act, Holder ensured that the Justice Department would use “every tool at [their] disposal to stand against discrimination.” Holder is leading the charge on the Justice Department’s challenge of the South Carolina voter ID law and a Texas redistricting plan.

In the wake of the acquittal of George Zimmerman for the murder of Trayvon Martin, Eric Holder reminded us that the tragedy provided us with an opportunity to revisit the dialogue on U.S. race issues through a speech to the NAACP. Despite the racially charged conversations that were occurring following the Zimmerman trial, Holder showed no hesitation in raising his concerns on the role race played in the tragedy. He vowed to take a closer look at the impact of state “Stand Your Ground” laws and described the conversation he was forced to have with his fifteen-year-old son:

Trayvon’s death last spring caused me to sit down to have a conversation with my own 15-year-old son, like my dad did with me. This was a father-son tradition I hoped would not need to be handed down. But as a father who loves his son and who is more knowing in the ways of the world, I had to do this to protect my boy. I am his father and it is my responsibility, not to burden him with the baggage of eras long gone, but to make him aware of the world he must still confront. This is a sad reality in a nation that is changing for the better in so many ways…. As important as it was, I am determined to do everything in my power to ensure that the kind of talk I had with my son isn’t the only conversation that we engage in as a result of these tragic events.

On Monday, Holder revealed his overhaul of the Justice Department’s approach to reforming certain criminal laws by cutting mandatory minimum drug sentences. Holder addressed the unwarranted disparities that such laws created between minority and white communities. He acknowledged the role that the government played in exacerbating the problems related to poverty, criminality and incarceration in many minority communities. There is no denying that addressing these drug sentences will have a greater impact on minority offenders. Holder is not only an attorney who seeks to reform the injustices of Blacks and Latinos; he has aimed to ensure that no minority group faces injustices at the hands of the government. For example, Holder decided to cease the DOJ’s defense of the constitutionality of the Defense of Marriage Act nearly two years before the Supreme Court found the law unconstitutional.

Unlike the role that our President plays, Eric Holder is at the helm of our federal judicial system and has the ability to control the manner in which our laws are enforced. He recognizes that the method for prosecuting certain crimes and the sentencing criteria has disproportionately impacted minorities. This may lessen his chances of every gaining a seat on the country’s highest court; however, Holder is ensuring that he leaves his mark on U.S. history. It is unclear whether President Obama knew at the time he nominated Holder to lead the Department of Justice that Holder would become his gateway to directly helping minority communities. Nevertheless, kudos to Obama for his wise selection, and for not replacing Holder in his second term. As for Attorney General Eric Holder, thank you for addressing the inequities in minority communities.

Obama and Holder

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