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Push against racial slurs traces to Ellison-Williams incident

Williams Getty Images

Many assume that the effort of the NFL to eradicate racial slurs from the playing field emanates from the Richie Incognito/Jonathan Martin situation, which included among other things a voice message from Incognito containing the N-word.

But the push comes not from the Dolphins’ situation but from an incident involving an official and a man who plays for the team whose name many believe is a racial slur.

In November, Redskins tackle Trent Williams claimed that umpire Roy Ellison directed improper language toward Williams.  The Fritz Pollard Alliance argued that Ellison’s words were preceded by Williams directing the N-word to Ellison.  Williams, who like Ellison is African-American, denied the allegation.

In the aftermath of the incident, for which Ellison was suspended one game and Williams was not sanctioned, attorney Cyrus Mehri penned a letter to the league arguing that use of the N-word on the playing field violates Rule 12, Section 3, Article 1(b), which prohibits the use of “abusive, threatening, or insulting language or gestures to opponents, officials, teammates, or representatives of the League.”  Coincidentally (or not), the NFL is now considering not a rule change but a “point of emphasis” encouraging officials to penalize players who use racial slurs.

It still won’t be easy to enforce.  Apart from figuring out who said what to whom on a playing field surrounded by thousands of people and all sorts of ambient noise, good luck determining whether the intent is to be “abusive, threatening, or insulting.”

To make this have a chance of working, the NFL needs to come up with a George Carlin-style list of words that necessarily are “abusive, threatening, or insulting” regarding of intention or meaning or context.  Even then, this point of emphasis will introduce yet another way that officials can, via the inconsistent and erroneous application of a rule, affect the outcome of a game.

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20 Responses to “Push against racial slurs traces to Ellison-Williams incident”
  1. discountdoublecheck says: Feb 26, 2014 8:59 AM

    This continues to be beyond ridiculous. The idea may make you feel all warm and fuzzy in theory, but in reality…sorry, it won’t work and it’s a fruitless endeavor. It’s a violent, fast paced, physical game and if these guys were THAT sensitive…they’d never have gotten on the field.

    Goodell needs to stop trying to play Mother Theresa and go enjoy his $44 million salary somewhere.

  2. animaux7 says: Feb 26, 2014 9:00 AM

    That “George Carlin list” of words could be as long as 1/2 the words in the dictionary. This will be impossible to enforce.

  3. prosportswashington says: Feb 26, 2014 9:08 AM

    Just don’t get caught saying anything bad?

  4. dccowboy says: Feb 26, 2014 9:12 AM

    so when the Ref uses the racial slur, do they have to offiate the next lay from 15 yards away?

  5. xcflqb7 says: Feb 26, 2014 9:38 AM

    The discipline to the ref simply proves that existing authority is plenty able to deal with any issues – ever hear of unsportsmanlike conduct Roger – and while you are at use some of that 44 mill to add the initials PC to your name – I never even wanted to wear a red practice jersey , you’d have us wearing flag belts

  6. rc33 says: Feb 26, 2014 9:43 AM

    Next: Mandated help-up-the-guy-you-just-tackled.

  7. steelnucs says: Feb 26, 2014 9:58 AM

    I’ll try this again –

    “attorney Cyrus Mehri penned a letter to the league arguing that use of the N-word on the playing field violates Rule 12, Section 3″..blah, blah, blah…

    What a shock to find that a lefty do-gooder attorney is responsible for this asinine situation.

  8. dirtdawg54 says: Feb 26, 2014 10:03 AM

    Absurd. Just absurd.

    Seems to me action was taken. The official was suspended and if he really wanted to he could have called an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty on Williams (a better response than choosing whatever he did to get himself suspended).

    We don’t need more rules and penalties when ones are in place already.

  9. rg3andthensome says: Feb 26, 2014 10:10 AM

    So when did Obama take over the NFL? This is beyond stupid!

  10. packerbackernj says: Feb 26, 2014 10:14 AM

    So many people jealous of Goodells salery. Amazing.

  11. packerbackernj says: Feb 26, 2014 10:15 AM

    So many people jealous of Goodells salary. Amazing.

  12. ugadogs21 says: Feb 26, 2014 10:18 AM

    It’s a global problem so execute a global consequence on the field. If the word is heard throw the flag and doc each team 1 point. Make the players accountable to each other.

  13. dirtysoufsavage says: Feb 26, 2014 10:32 AM

    Yeah, let’s bash Goodell because he makes so much money.
    Free market, capitalism at work. If you don’t like it, don’t spend money on NFL merchandise, and don’t give TV any ratings by not watching the games. Or you could vote for Obama again

  14. qdog112 says: Feb 26, 2014 10:32 AM

    Whether it’s gonna be easy to enforce or not, it must be done. If the words can’t be accepted inside corporate HQ, if you can’t walk down the hall in NFL or a team’s facility and call someone an N-word or a Redskin, then you can’t do it on the field.

    It’s a workplace and racial slurs are not tolerated.

  15. halfie6 says: Feb 26, 2014 10:41 AM

    I’m a soccer referee and we have a similar rule against the use of “abusive” language. The sanction available to us is a red card, which is even more likely to impact the outcome of a game than a 15-yard penalty. I’ve even seen referees improperly issue a yellow card for the offense because they just don’t want to go to the pocket for a red if the language is bad but not “that bad.”

    The reality is that you really do have to excercise judgment and discretion. It’s a tough call. My feeling is that it needs to be clearly directed toward someone, needs to be said loudly enough that it garners a reaction and that the reaction seems genuine (not faked in an effort to get the card to come out).

    But there are so many shades of gray. It truly is extremely difficult to enforce consistently. The only advantage football refs have is there are a lot more of them per player than there are of us. But, of course, that just leads to even more inconsistent application as each ref must apply his own judgment.

  16. propertyofthebroncos says: Feb 26, 2014 11:32 AM

    Those saying reality is this will never change are part of the problem. Sure if you go around thinking that do nothing it won’t ever change. Good for the NFL for starting this process to eliminate racial slurs. No one should ever have to endure that and while it may take time it can and should and will happen

  17. ronhfreeman says: Feb 26, 2014 11:47 AM

    I think we are on a collision course with the PC crowd and freedom of speech. This thing will end up in court if the NFL goes forward with it.
    Americans have become too sensitive to every little thing. I for one hold freedom of speech as one of our most important rights even if I don’t like what the other person is saying!

  18. daysend564 says: Feb 26, 2014 11:50 AM

    rc33 says:
    Feb 26, 2014 9:43 AM
    Next: Mandated help-up-the-guy-you-just-tackled.
    ==============
    And now you have to pat them on the butt too

  19. greysolon says: Feb 26, 2014 12:08 PM

    Dumbest idea in football history? Top 5 for sure.

  20. musicman495 says: Feb 27, 2014 1:39 PM

    I think it is smart to make this a point of emphasis now, as we are starting to get ever more diversity on the field of play. Without some attention to this, how long before a fight starts because someone shouts a slur against African Americans players, gay players, foreign born players, whatever.

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