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.

We Are All Paula Deen

Paula Deen

I didn’t say it to his face.

I have watched recent news reports on Paula Deen and her admission of using the N word.  Many have admonished her for her truthfulness but after reading the transcript of her deposition, my conclusion is what bothers people is that she was not more rueful and contrite in her admission.

Let’s face it, any white American who says he has never used the N word is lying. If you’re a white person reading this blog, you know you have allowed the N word to “slip” out of your mouth at one point or another–that is the reason why I will not spell out the word in this post.  I  remember taking my sister to Carnegie Hall to watch Jay-Z perform and it was the first time that I ever noticed that I was surrounded by mostly white people at a Jay concert.  As we waved our hands in non-unison belting out Jay’s lines, there was no moment of silence when we got to the parts with then N word. The white people unapologetically belted out the N word.

There are areas throughout the U.S. where the use of the N word is acceptable as long as a black person isn’t in earshot. Similarly, the word bi*ch has almost become a household term to reference a woman we dislike.

I’m sure that behind closed (or open) doors all of us have used a derogatory word to refer to a group of people. So why are we up in arms when Paula Deen admits what many white people have been guilty of doing for hundreds of years? It is evident that the Food Network and Smithfield Foods view Deen’s comments as bad PR. But when we punish someone for doing something that we have all done one or more times in our lives, aren’t we perpetuating a false sense of reality?

We all want to believe that racism was eradicated with the election of Barack Obama.  The U.S. Supreme Court decided in a landmark case related to Voting Rights Act, that our country had moved away from needing the federal government to monitor states’ race discrimination in voting.  Is someone a racist because they use a racial slur to refer to a person behind closed doors?  Deen’s statement was ignorant, but it would be a giant leap to assume that she is racist based solely on her use of the N word.  Just as I have no opinion on who someone chooses to sleep with, I also don’t care what they choose to say in the confines of their home or when speaking privately with their peers.  What I expect is that any person I encounter understands that they will respect me irrespective of whether they call me the N word or a bi*ch in private.

Paula Deen’s followers will likely continue to purchase her products and most will not know or care about what she admitted to in her deposition; and those who do know can opt to not patronize her.  What are we to learn from this?  People say ugly things. As long as they don’t demonstrate the sentiment behind their derogatory words, we should be less concerned.

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