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Timeout: The NFL contemplates penalty for using the ‘n-word’ on the field

Submitted by Alton Young on February 27, 2014 – 3:37 pmNo Comment

I have to hijack this column once again this week to write about a serious topic. For those looking for my usual sports-themed levity, tune in next issue.

I watched a special this weekend on the use of the “n-word” in sports. The ESPN special was framed as a Black History Month program (which, to me, is sad in itself). I felt that I had to respond with my perspective in this final week of Black History Month.

The conversation has been sparked by the NFL’s consideration of possible rule to enact a 15-yard penalty for the use of the word on the field. The argument of most people seems to be that it can’t be legislated by officials or by the NFL. The special cited Miami Dolphins players Richie Incognito  and Jonathan Martin and their situation as a catalyst for the rule consideration. I can’t discuss the entire situation between Incognito and Martin in this column, but it involved a white player (Incognito) calling a bi-racial player (Martin, who is black and white) the “n-word” on many occasions, such as in the locker room and through text messages.

The panel that was on the ESPN show was a mix of African-American journalists, an athlete, a rapper and others, who each had their own perspective to add to the conversation. The problem with trying to solve this in an hour-long television show, is that it can’t be wrapped up in that amount of time. Unfortunately, this is not something that can be solved in television debate and the surface wasn’t even scratched in my opinion.

I also know that this isn’t something that I can solve right here in this column, but I can add a few of my thoughts on the issue.


First of all, I am an African-American male and I do not, have not, and will not use the “n-word.” It’s not something that is in my vocabulary and I have always chosen to stay clear of the word.  I was always taught to find other ways to express myself other than use words that were vulgar or coarse and that word is the worst that I know.

The argument here is that the word has been re-appropriated in modern African-American culture to mean something else, which has always been a hollow argument to me. I will not ever use the word, although it’s in hip-hop music that I listen to and it’s in movies that I watch. Of course, I have heard people that I know- both young and old- use the word on a regular basis.

I’m not going to tell anyone what they can or can’t say in private conversation, but I will implore anyone who uses any word to find out more about its origin. Before hip-hop became mainstream and it became a part of the vocabulary of non-African Americans who think that it means something inclusive to call each other that, it was used to degrade, demean and destroy the will of a group of people who were thought of and told that they were less than human. Ask yourself how the cowards on social media are using the word still to this day.

In other news, Jason Collins became the first openly gay athlete to compete in any of the four major professional sports. He signed a 10-day contract with the NBA’s Brooklyn Nets Feb. 23 and played in the game later that evening with his new team. His stat line was pretty much typical of the numbers that he put up in his last few seasons in the league: zero points, three rebounds, one steal, and five fouls – pretty much what he was signed to do. It was a great day for him and for the gay community at large, but I hope the day will come soon when it is not news and he is only a person doing his job.

Lastly, I’m not big on the Winter Olympics, but if you think that Russia’s medal total has nothing to do with it being the host country, I have that same swamp land in Florida that somebody tried to sell to me the other day. I didn’t buy it, but you can.

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