NFL may impose 15-yard penalties for racial slurs on the field


The NFL may implement a new rule this offseason calling for 15-yard penalties for any players who use racial slurs on the field.

John Wooten, head of the Fritz Pollard Alliance, told CBS Sports that he expects the league to make it an automatic 15-yard penalty if a player uses the N-word on the field, and an automatic ejection for a player who does it twice.

“I will be totally shocked if the competition committee does not uphold us on what we’re trying to do,” Wooten said. “We want this word to be policed from the parking lot to the equipment room to the locker room. Secretaries, PR people, whoever, we want it eliminated completely and want it policed everywhere.”

Wooten’s comments were strictly about the N-word, but if the NFL is going to implement this rule, other racial slurs would presumably be included as well, along with slurs that are homophobic, sexist or religious in nature.

However, the NFL may find such a rule tougher for its officials to implement than it sounds. Would the NFL provide every player, coach and official with a list of words that can’t be used? And who would determine which words make the list? Some slurs may be considered offensive in some contexts but not in others. Members of a racial or ethnic groups sometimes use slurs among themselves, with no offense intended or taken. If one black player uses the N-word toward another black player, and a white official hears it and throws a penalty flag, that may open a can of worms the NFL would rather avoid.

And, of course, not everyone agrees on what constitutes a racial slur. Some people consider “Redskins” a racial slur. If the NFL is so concerned about policing use of offensive words, why is one of its teams using a name that many people find offensive?

Despite all the potential problems with the rule, it wouldn’t be surprising to see the NFL implement it. The investigation into the bullying in the Dolphins’ locker room, which revealed that racial slurs were frequently used by players, made the NFL look bad. Cracking down on racial slurs could be an opportunity for the NFL to make a positive stand. Or it could turn out to be a big mess.

154 responses to “NFL may impose 15-yard penalties for racial slurs on the field

  1. Sounds like a horrible idea. Who wants to see a game decided because of a penalty where a black guy called another black guy the n-word, and didn’t mean anything by it.

  2. Let’s not forget to penalize players if they say something disrespectful about a family member.

    “Your Mother wears Army boots” – 15 yards
    “I would like to touch your sister” – 15 yards
    “Your Mother-in-law is ugly” – 5 yards

  3. Another move into the PC world of stupidity. Refs have enough problems getting calls on the field correct now they will be word police. Get ready for a 1000 word dictionary of subjective bad words. I know the NSA will add extra sensitve listening equipment to helmets and if you say a bad word you will be tased too. Off to prison… next!!
    Maybe you get a beer summit in DC.
    What a country………………….

  4. ……seriously? What happens when an official thinks he heard something? Political correctness is starting to become more of a burden than a benefit.

  5. So now were giving preferential treatment to a specific race. So if GMs have a White and Black evenly rated on their draft board, they’ll take the Black guy because he might draw more penalties.

  6. Doesn’t the rule committee have better things to decide on!?!?!?!!! Here’s an idea how about we allow coaches to challenge anything on the field, since the NFL can’t manage to hold refs more accountable for their calls & lack of.

  7. Man you two Vikings fans are so annoying. Not every article relates to the Packers or Vikings.

  8. Imagine paying a couple hundred bucks to see your favorite player get ejected for an action not directly related to the actual game. Joke.

  9. In addition to a penalty, offending players must go directly to the locker room to have their mouths washed with soap.

  10. What happens if the QB audibles and calls for a slant and there’s an Asian guy on the other teams’ defense?

  11. I thought the proper punishment was to give “Time-Outs” to boys behaving badly. I guess maybe there might be confusion over a “Time-Out” vs. a “Time-Out?” Maybe each team should be required to have a person to conduct Sensitivity Training on the sidelines during games.

  12. “And there’s a flag on the play, looks like we might having holding here, oh wait the ref is signaling it was a n word infraction!” Let’s see the replay and yup, yup right there he slurred him, good call”

  13. business wise – first you codify a value system into the rules which govern your brand. second you celebrate the new and improved product. third you publicly reflect on a bigger picture. fourth – and most important – you change the name of the redskins.
    the nfl has found its path to making a controversial decision, which is now obviously on the horizon. probably three years from now. get over it skins fans and pc police. you’re going to lose this one. this rule change makes the redskins name toast.

  14. This is what happens when you let people trample on the Constitution…

    Just a little something called Freedom of Speech…

  15. This is already the case. If the referee overhears you saying something inappropriate, they already will flag you for taunting. This doesn’t really change much.

  16. The NFL should not only condone racism they should encourage it to keep the conservatives happy.

  17. You guys should do a poll!!!! Let’s show ’em how far our precious Liberal movement has come!! I love you so much!!!

  18. For some reason I keep seeing a scene from Blazing Saddles in my mind.

    “What’d he say?”

    “He said the head linesman is near.”

    Should be a fun rule to officiate in noisy places like Seattle and KC.

  19. Just what the NFL would need, yet another game-slowing penalty based on something that would be difficult if not impossible to enforce at the best of times.
    If the NFL isn’t careful, they might eventually ‘PC’ themselves right out of relevance.

  20. When free speech was given protection in the constitution our fore fathers had no clue just how far society would fall into this vulgar abyss we live in today. Cuss words simply weren’t heard in everyday society. That being said, the protection is binding and all encompassing, you have every right to say whatever you like. The NFL is not open society, and if they want to eliminate a word or words from their business I suppose they can try. I don’t think it will ever, and I mean EVER work. “No no no I said pull the trigger! I swear!” This is a version of Pandora’s box that needs to stay closed and buried. I feel like the players can police this on their own.

  21. We knew this day was coming.. the PC police have effectively ruined the NFL, We’re still allowed to talk trash during our annual Thanksgiving day game at the park though.

  22. detectivejimmymcnulty says:
    Feb 22, 2014 11:41 AM
    ……seriously? What happens when an official thinks he heard something? Political correctness is starting to become more of a burden than a benefit.
    Starting to? It has been a ridiculous burden for a long while.

    While wildly inappropriate, it is speech regardless of how vile it may be to some. There is no way to quash a mindset through the elimination of a few words. Who gets to decide what words are offensive or not? How many people must view it as offensive before the PC police recognize its vulgarity? This is a dumb move by politically correct people that only know “it’s bad” and have no idea how to eliminate it or what the consequences would be when they try.

    Where does it stop? A simple unsportsmanlike conduct penalty would be appropriate enough without trying to define specific circumstances.

  23. Yes, lets “police” words said by grown men because someone doesn’t like them.

    I’m not advocating for racial slurs, but this is ridiculous. Offensive language is still part of that whole “free speech” thing, and as long as these guys aren’t broadcasting what they jaw to each other on the field, who cares what they say?

  24. Political correctness has invaded every nook and cranny of our society.

    If a player utters racial slurs, he’d first be penalized…then ejected…then fined…then suspended…then arrested…tried and convicted…and finally executed.

    The same trend will happen to ordinary American citizens, eventually.

    Saying a word deemed “racist” will someday become the worst crime anyone could possibly commit, including rape and murder.

  25. Why should there be a penalty for religious jibe? Believing in fairy tales is a choice, unlike race or sexuality.

  26. Well on our way in 20 years…right on schedule…We will be playing the Unity Bowl, where no one keeps score, and everyone gets a trophy…That is if the Soccer Mom girly men of the world don’t outlaw it first..

  27. Players have stated the N word is used by blacks on blacks. How bout “cracker” is that banned? I can imagine that backlash a player will get from the media if a Ref thinks he heard something.

  28. So would more than one ref be required to hear the ‘slur’ before the penalty is assessed, or would it be up to one ref only who might be having a bad hair day, be annoyed w/ a player or just plain vindictive? This sounds like its totally subjective! Terrible idea, TERRIBLE, but typical of the No Fun League.

    What’s next, smiling or high fiving if you make a good play or score a TD?

  29. How are they going to enforce this when it is the ref that uses the racial slur. Remember umpire Roy Ellison.

  30. The funny thing is it is black Americans using it against each other. If they want to degrade each other let them. It just shows you the evolution of these types of people has come very far. I wonder what MLK would say. He is rolling over in his grave sorry maybe I another 100 years they will be edgamacated.

  31. Hey, let’s start penalizing for bad language too. I’m sure that offends people. The NFL is becoming a joke with all the political correctness. It’s almost as laughable as NBC.

  32. Are they going to have an extra official on the field just for political correctness language? His ears will burn off 5 minutes into the game. If they can’t stand the heat they need to stay out of the kitchen.

  33. Since it seems the only word the younger urban community uses is now outlawed does that mean the NFL will look the exact opposite of the NBA?

  34. REF: “Hey #53!!! Did you just say what I think you said?”

    #53: “No way ref you’re tripping! I said “run quicker” Not “dumb ni55a!”

    Ref: “no you didn’t I heard what you said!”

    Argument ensues… time wasted, horrible rule

  35. If I was from somewhere else in Nebraska, I might consider someone incessantly yelling “Omaha” at me, a slur.

    Or, that same person calling me on the defense a “spy”, I would take that as defamation.

  36. Ed Hoculi: “A caucasian player used the N word referencing an african-american player. Had an african-american player used the word in referencing another african-american player, as is customary in that culture, there would be no penalty. However, since it was a caucasian player, there is a 15 yard penatly on the Redskins.”

  37. It would be prettyawesome to see the flag thrown and the ref come on the mic, “Racial slur on #94 for calling #64’s mother a ‘some dumb white hoe that Im gonna have my way with tonight.”

  38. In can see it now. Beast mode runs over Clay Matthews to get in the end zone, spikes the ball and exclaims “gotta get ya wieght up, weak ass backer!”
    Ref- 15 yard penalty for using a racial slur. Penalty accessed on the kickoff……

  39. Crazy times we live in. People actually complaining, because you can’t call someone the N word.

    As for the rest of your bemoaning of having to be more PC that’s all conjecture as they were specifically referring to the N word while the article asserts a litany of other words…

  40. In a noisy place like Seattle or KC, how can a side judge be sure whether the word he heard came from a player or the spectator?

  41. Unsportsmanlike conduct, name calling, on number…

    Wow. The nfl is becoming a giant tattle tale league. Now you’re going to have guys screaming to the refs because of a WORD that was used. Welcome to kindergarten,everybody.

  42. Allegations involving the utterance of offensive language in the workplace can take months or years to resolve, including figuring out what was said, and the NFL expects referees to make split second decisions regarding what was said and who out of 22 players said it, while at the same time following the action on every play and monitoring non-speech rule violations. OK, good luck with that.

  43. Ironic, considering 2 of the 32 teams have slurs as names. Looking at you, Redskins & Browns.

  44. Goodell has turned the NFL into such a wussy league. Enough with meddling with the rules and penalities EVERY year. Leave it alone.
    Not going to be long before life long fans leave like they did when NASCAR decided to take racing out of the sport.

  45. This will turn into a nightmare for the NFL. Every single time that flag is called on a white player the liberal media (being pretty much the whole media) will have an absolute field day on Monday.

    Not to say what Riley Cooper did was right, but every Monday will be a new Riley Cooper.

  46. The NFL as a sports league is imploding due to over legislation concerning play on the field. Too many subjective rules, inconsistently applied rules by officials, resulting in a game that is capitulating control to officials more and more each year. Referees, not players, are deciding outcomes. Add to this fact, off the field personnel problems, problems which have caught the attention of the President of the U.S., and you have the increasing politicalization of this league. If this trend continues, and I suspect it will given the government’s demand for a PC nation wanted by the citizens or not, and given Goodell’s desire to make politics a part of the referee’s responsibility, this league will be referreed into oblivion.

  47. And referencing my post above, officials should issue demands today for a bigger piece of the NFL pie as it is obvious to EVERYONE that their work load is growing. More compensation needed. Strike? Bring back those re-placement refs.

  48. If this rule is implemented, it will be one more step toward the downfall of the NFL. They are already well on their way with the “safety” Personal fouls and Blow to the (area above the waist) “Head”.

    Every dynasty has it’s downfall. The NFL is actively pursuing their own.

  49. Ndamukong Souix on the sideline away from the RED zone eating a CRACKER in sexist Gillete Stadium listening to the HONKY cars in the parking lot has more on his mind than next week’s game against the SILVER and BLACK or the game against the BROWNS.

    He could be thinking about the SAINTS killed by criminal BUCCANEERS and heathen vikings, or how the animal rights weirdos hate the Packers or environmentalist whackos hate the Steelers, Jets, and Chargers. Perhaps it was the BLACK PANTHERS logo in Carolina.

    Probably he was remembering when football was fun and was about the game. He was careful not to smile to avoid being ejected for possession of fun.

  50. The league won’t make the redskins change there name, I bet they would if the black player were against the name. sticks and stones will break my bones, however names won’t hurt me, remember that, and who are the minority players in the NFL? So there is no cure for stupid. And the beat goes on. Bill…..Can they still call me Cracker? Is it Okay for me to call another guy Cracker?

  51. Since there really is no way to review the use of the N or any other offensive word, unless they want to replay the use of an offensive language over and over again on instant replay, there is no real way of knowing if the word was ever said. Besides the obvious mistakenly hearing something because you’re officiating in a stadium filled with 75,000 screaming people, there is the much more concerning possibility of corruption. Any official could throw flags on teams in key situations, claim the use of an ‘offensive’ word, and never be held accountable for it, while collecting money on the side from bookies.

    Inconsistent PI calls already make the game seem fixed at times.

  52. Man, there are some really funny, “safe” comments here getting thumbs down. Have we collectively lost our sense of humor or the ability to chuckle? Some of you must be a blast to hang out with on a Saturday night.

  53. That is just absurd. John Wooten needs to sit his butt down. First off it shouldn’t matter if another black man is calling another black man the N word that’s how it is. He doesn’t see it as a racial slur when used in that context.
    But that’s not even that bad, it’s that now you want to give the referees even more power? Those same refs who at times are incompetent? Want to make this a game decision penalty?
    Are you freaking kidding me? Fine them but don’t let that crap affect the game!

  54. Unfortunately, this will make Michael Sam toxic.

    You won’t be able to come 15 yards near him without fear of retribution, nor will you be able to look or speak in his direction.

    Good job NFL !

  55. Just when I thought the nfl couldn’t top their latest stupid move. This is so p/c it’s pathetic. Not going to be fun, at all. It’s getting close to borderline for me. Cant stand games being, won/lost, with these kinds of idiotic calls.

  56. So, we have the ‘yellow’ flag for a penalty.
    A ‘red’ flag for a challenge.

    Now, maybe we should have a ‘black and white’ flag for racial slurs.

    A ‘rainbow colored flag’ for an alternative lifestyle player.

    Then when a personal foul, unsportsmanlike conduct call against a gay, African american player is called and challenged, we can throw the entire lot of flags at him…and unfortunately ‘ him ‘ is just there to play a game he has a passion for.

    What a world this has become.

  57. A lot of liberal folks are trying to get rid of football, they puke it out every chance they get. Now their going to say that 95% or some such # of football players are racists, and that football has no place in our society. I’m not joking either.

  58. “If one black player uses the N-word toward another black player, and a white official hears it and throws a penalty flag, that may open a can of worms the NFL would rather avoid.”

    This is a ridiculous comment. Basically, you’re inferring that the white official would be viewed as racist. What if a black official hears it and throws a flag? Would that be opening a can of worms too?

  59. i commend this organization for trying to deter racist language on the field. however, i think this type of “policing” should start with the coaches, team and players themselves.

  60. As a penalty for such a dumb suggestion, Wooten should be made to sit, Clockwork Orange style, through the unedited version of Blazing Saddles 15 times.

  61. I played on a predominantly black football team. If the nfl is anything like my expierience all drives will now be first and goal on the 1.

  62. I am curious to see what hand signals the ref will use to signal this penalty. Maybe one hand on his hip and the other shaking his finger back and forth in front of him saying no, no, no?

  63. Someone said it earlier…what happened to the age old adage of “Sticks and stones may break my bones but, words can never harm me.” Once was, bullying was restricted to physical harm, now it’s bad words between grown men….not little chldren. I guess you can always run home and tell his mommy he called you a bad word.
    Can’t hit the quarterback, can’t hit receiver,can’t rag on someone….can i have the concession on supplying the flags for the National Flag Football League and the ear plugs so nobody hears any bad words, whatever they may be at that particular moment in time……..??

  64. What a messy can of worms. Perfect example of why I’m giving up on this ridiculous sport. I’ve had it. Its not even a sport anymore. Its become choreographed, mediocre entertainment.

  65. Ridiculous.

    Whatever happened to “stick and stones”, etc.?

    Had we had all this girly sensitivity in the past, we’d all be speaking German.

    We are soft and getting softer.

  66. My final thought (two previous): speculating on the demise of this all powerful sports league (the NFL, ratings and revenue are booming) might seem foolish at best but I’m sure most of us have heard the phrase in reference to another business, the banking business, “Too Big To Fail”. And we know what happened there. And like individual banks, the NFL has plenty of competition, college football and other sports constantly being televised. With ever increasing prices for fans and ever increasing rules and regs that emasculate the game and put outcomes in the officials hands, the NFL is NOT too big to fail.

  67. “Freedom of speech’ protections apply to laws passed by Congress, not what individual employers may or may not allow in their workplace. Very few employers would tolerate open use of racial slurs during the course of the business day, so this kind of rule should be unremarkable.

    That said, this is a league where officials rarely get through a game without a badly blown call. The proposed rule would be difficult to impossible to enforce in a game situation – and how would they penalize for use in the parking lot or equipment room anyway? There’s little chance this rule will be adopted.

  68. If jonathan martin wasnt such a big baby we would,nt be having this conversation.

  69. “If one black player uses the N-word toward another black player, and a white official hears it and throws a penalty flag, that may open a can of worms the NFL would rather avoid.”

    They should totally enforce it in this case. To do otherwise continues and standardizes a double standard that should not be acceptable.

  70. 15 yard penalty for unnecessary name calling..

    “Wait, we are both black, that shouldn’t be a penalty”

    After review, There is no penalty on the play.

  71. There’s an easy way to solve this problem. Cut the time on the play clock in between plays in half. Less time in between plays, means less time for the players to conceitedly celebrate in between plays and less time to trash talk. Also let’s get rid of celebratory head slaps. We don’t want players hitting each other in the head during a play, we also shouldn’t be hitting a guys head after a play in celebration. What’s good for the field of play, should be good for the sidelines as well.

  72. This is just plain stupid….normal people live by that – the bar is set pretty low for these NFL players, pitiful.

  73. If they talk about “momma” that should be a loss of down too! Idiots. They’ll find a way to fine them cause Goodell didn’t hit $50 mil this year…*sigh*

  74. What is this kindergarten school all over again?For goodness sake this is getting ridiculous, they just all need to “growup” and behave like adults. It’s obvious that there are players out there, who have no clue how to behave. Can’t use the “N” word but it’s ok for black guys to call white guys names. How in heavens name, will refs police this one??? The answer is, they cannot. Teams are at one another in every football game, a ref cannot be everywhere. It’s a stupid idea.

  75. This is just plain dumb for a number of reasons. But here’s the deal, if you want to implement something like this to deter slurs…don’t throw a flag and penalize the team and fans. FINE the player. But DO NOT use a guys personal opinion and foul mouth to penalize the team and fans.
    I’d hate to see such a yardage penalty make the difference in the outcome of a ballgame or season.

    But as someone mentioned before, this just shows that our Constitution means nothing anymore. Trash talk has been a part of the NFL since day one. Heck it is part of school ball. The players have all heard it or said it before arriving to the NFL. It isn’t up to the immoral NFL to be the moral police of our society!

  76. Once again Professional Sports is trying to place a bandaid on an infected wound. The focus should be on overall respect and integrity. Unfortunately, professional sports and their owners have none of either. To them, its all about the might dollar and how much they can squeeze out of the fans. These problems will continue to exist as long as Professional sports teams and their owners continue to hire, trade for, and keep athletes that have histories of crimes against society (racial slurs, rape, domestic violence, to just name a few). But because they care more about money and what that player can give them on the field, they overlook all the bad and get exactly what they have. Then say they are doing this and that to fix it, while its nothing but smoke and mirrors, hoping people forget.

  77. People…while I can agree the rule might be silly, you sound like idiots when you pull out the “freedom of speech” defense.

    They aren’t arresting safeties for assault when they crack someone. So saying an ugly word and getting a penalty is not a violation of your “freedom of speech.”

    If you still don’t get it, go spout some of those ugly words at work and see if your freedom of speech defense holds up.


  78. The refs have a hard enough time interpreting the wacky rules they enforce now. So, the NFL says they now have to add monitoring speech? Maybe they should add a vocal interpretation ref who just makes those calls. And stop w/the liberal stuff. I vote democratic and as a football fan this is just stupid !

  79. Yes, this has “labs” written all over it because let’s all face it, the comp committee made up of billionaire owners and multi millionaire coaches are certainly liberal, always pushing for higher taxes and more free aid.

    Those poor conservatives have to fight the fight.

  80. But if your a defensive player, how can you use offensive language because I thought the defense wasn’t allowed to mimic offensive calls? And isn’t all of the offense’s language innately offensive because they are on offense when they’re using it? Of course, an offensive player might use offensive language in response to a defensive player’s offensive language, so how is it offensive when the offensive player was just being defensive of the defensive player’s use of offensive language? Sorry, there are just to many layers here.

  81. The NFL has completely lost it mind. Who is sitting behind a desk and coming up with this crap. The officials can’t keep up with all the rules now, so you want them to listen to plays as well as watch a play. they have not shown than can multitask as it is.

  82. I personally am not offended by the n-word, or any other words, regardless of the context. My concern is intent. The only good that comes from those words is the insight they can provide into a person’s perspective.

    That said, it’s a professional environment. MOST workplaces don’t allow discriminatory language, no matter who’s saying it to whom or in what context. Certain words are off limits. It’s not hard. If the league doesn’t like it, they should outlaw its use, period. There is no controversy.

  83. Wait until someone loses a game because of this.

    [4th down stop by the defense] Yeah, n***!!

    [Ref blows whistle]

    Now it’s first and goal from the one-yard line.

    Oh, please. They can’t be serious.

    What about other ‘slurs’?

  84. Gonna only be white guys on the field since black guys use it as “dude”, NFL needs to stop being politically correct!!! Getting rediculous!! Cowboys for life homies!!!

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