Is banning the n-word racist?

In his ever-successful attempt to make us all watch NFL coverage 24/7/365, Roger Goodell, the league’s successful, rich, and annoying commissioner, never ceases to do something almost daily that makes me want to write him personally. So I guess I just write it here and I hope he reads it.

The latest talk on the sports radio that I frequently enjoy is about the proposed ban on the n-word on the field. If players use it, the team would suffer a 15-yard penalty. Initially, as someone who never uses that term and finds it absolutely egregious to use it, I thought, “Hey, this rule ain’t so bad.”

And then of course I thought of my former students, my neighbors, and my friends who simply use the n-word and my thought changes. I’ve written about my third way approach to the n-word before. I literally am “neutral” on the issue. I’m not much an “issue” guy anyway, I’m more of a relator. With that said, I relate to people who use it casually—like I use “dude”—and I totally understand why they would use an incredibly offensive word and take away its power. On the other hand, some others are vehemently opposed to its use because it makes light of the centuries of oppression black people have suffered. Understandable, too.

For a fan of the Eagles, whose newly signed receiver Riley Cooper used the slur last year (and I thought the team should have cut him for using it), I understand why the wide receiver would defend the ban. Of course he does! What would happen if he didn’t?

On the other hand, Richard Sherman, another favorite of my blog, thinks the ban is ‘almost racist.’ It very well might be. I’m not even sure how one would enforce it. Because there is a clear distinction between the use of the word when one drops the –er and adds an –a and when one doesn’t, I don’t think it makes a whole lot of sense, or even has the ability to be properly enforced.

No matter what, sometimes that term is endearing. Sometimes it’s racist. We all can tell the difference, too. How do you make a rule about that? Well, I suppose you can’t.

My instinct is just to help players not be racist. Teach them to reconcile, help them to understand their privileges, and get an education about race. Maybe they should all learn about anti-oppression from the Mennonite Central Committee.

I understand why Goodell thinks his league will be less profitable than if the working environment for the players is hostile. Richie Incognito’s harassment of Jonathan Martin is a case-in-point. But the solution might not to be to just legislate the morality.

In fact, if he does that, he might think he’s done his part in the decidedly racist interactions that occur in the NFL. The hysteria over the n-word is really unbelievable, and for me, it’s especially unbelievable in a league who has a team named after a racist term already.

How Roger Goodell can impose a penalty for the use of the n-word, while still supporting Dan Snyder’s manifestly racist team’s nickname is beyond me. It just shows you how money-focused Goodell really is. Doesn’t care about players, race, or the integrity of his game (never mind the violence, the health of the players, and all of the other costs of an 18-game season that is another one of his dreams). I won’t redundantly list out all of the reasons that Washington needs to change its name, find them here, but to me, it’s clear that Goodell’s motives are all over the place.

I love it when the Onion says that the “Redskins name only offensive if you think about what it means.” Regarding the n-word, if you think about it, well, it’s not so clear, is it?

I think that’s the point. Legislating justice could be a start, but if we ever think it’s the end, we’ve got another thing coming. Slavery has ended in the U.S., equal rights for people of color is the law of the land, and guess what? There are more black men imprisoned today than were enslaved in 1850. It’s a new Jim Crow. Banning the n-word might cover Goodell’s butt, but it won’t solve the problem of prejudice in the NFL—since black players probably use the word more than anyone of the field, it might make it worse.

2 Replies to “Is banning the n-word racist?

  1. I am curious as to WHY they feel the need now to legislate the n-word. Is it because several referees have used that word towards players (see Trent Williams & Roy Ellison last year)? Is it better for business? Why? I just don’t know quite understand why a group, majority of which are white, feel this to be a necessary move. I wonder if they will/have see(n) the hypocrisy of allowing Washington to hold onto their team name.

    I’d enjoy seeing legislators ‘looking into’ the league’s non-profit status (~10 billion made last year). But is that merely legislating morality?

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