It’s one thing for the NFL to say that it wants to take the N-word off the playing field. It’s quite another for the NFL to actually accomplish that feat.
“I think it’s used as a term of endearment between players, and I think it’s so much a part of pop culture and culture in general that it’s going to be very hard to eliminate that from the game,” Packers linebacker Clay Matthews told Dan Patrick on Tuesday. “I think is more something that should come from the locker room, organization, and team leaders to remove it if they see fit.
“This is an emotional game played by tough men who obviously are a little crazy in doing so,” Matthews said. “I think this is going to be a very fine line as far as where this stops, when you start eliminating language from play. . . . It’ll be very difficult.”
The desire to eliminate racial slurs raises a variety of practical concerns, too. How will the officials know for sure that the N-word or some other word was said? How will they know whether it was used as a term of endearment or as an insult?
The bigger concern is philosophical. Does attaching a 15-yard penalty to the use of a racial slur like the N-word honor those who have been victimized by the hate contained in it over the years, or does it trivialize the issue by converting it into football’s equivalent of a parking ticket?
While the goal of eradicating improper language from the field of play is honorable, we’re not sure that attaching a tangible football consequence to the decision of an adult male to speak improperly is the right way to address the problem.
It’s also not a very good idea to give the officials yet another way that judgment can be exercised in a way that potentially affects the outcome of a game. In the playoff game between the 49ers and Panthers, a Carolina player was called for an obvious head butt — and at least one 49ers player performed the same act and got away with it.