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.