The National Football League is considering a new rule, an on field infraction that calls for a 15 yard penalty for the first offense, ejection for a second offense.  For reasons of political correctness it’s difficult to argue against installing the rule, but the narrow aim of political correctness often misses a much bigger target.

The rule, supported by the Fritz Pollard Alliance, which monitors diversity in the NFL, would call for a player to be penalized for using the “N” word during a game.  “We want this word to be policed from the parking lot to the equipment room to the locker room”, Fritz Pollard Alliance chairman John Wooten said in an interview earlier this week, and no one is likely to counter his concerns.

It’s a word with explosive racial undertones that only offends social sensitivities.  It’s the implimenation of the rule under game circumstances on the field of play in the NFL that draws some disagreement, and there are some good reasons for that.

Perhaps the most interesting opposition to the rule came from highly regarded ESPN anchor Mike Wilbon, co-host of the ESPN afternoon show “Pardon The Interuption”.  An African American, Wilbon openly used the word in discussing his take on the rule on ESPN’s “Outside The Lines”, saying policing the use of the word raises a number of issues, including the manner in which the word is used.  Wilbon says his friends often use the word in referring to him, in an endearing manner, “Absolutely endearing”, said Wilbon, “It’s entirely up to me about who uses it.”

Enforcing the rule in the heat of action in an NFL game can lead to other problems, such as unfairly branding the wrong player.  If the word is heard amid the background of the usual on field commotion how does an official know who used it, or even which team?  Former New York Giants linebacker Harry Carson is on the board of the Fritz Pollard Alliance and he feels the rule already exists, “unsportsmanlike conduct”, that use of the “N” word should fall under that blanket and the penalty should be assessed.

But would the rule, as proposed, be too restrictive?  Should it be limited to use of the “N” word alone, or should it be a rule that encompasses all political correctness and all personal sensitivities?  I, for instance, have sensitivities to certain words and usages.  Being of French descent I frequently heard the term “Frog” as it was meant in a derogatory manner, but I never took it that way.  I generally took Wilpon’s view, that it was used by friends in an endearing way.  I take no offense over the “H” word, which I view in a comical, almost cartoonish vein.  But I have always taken offense at the “C” word, because of it’s historical connotation and the derogatory manner in which it stereotypes all white people.  Will the rule be implimented to embrace the feelings of the those who share my sensitivities, or have their own?

The institution of this rule would also put the NFL in a position of having to police itself.  While Roger Goodell has spent a considerable amount of time sidestepping the issue, leaving it to team owner Daniel Snyder, the NFL would then have to confront the matter of the Washington Redskins team name head on.

While I despise the word at the center of the proposed rule, I do believe the rule, it’s implementation and enforcement, must be broadened to encompass a wider range of political correctness and sensitivities.

With a comment from the sports world, I’m Scott Gray.


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