The NFL’s competition committee will soon consider a rule that will penalize players for use of the N-word (a racial slur used against African-Americans) on the field.

According to a article dated February 21, 2014, the NFL will likely rule an automatic 15 yard penalty for first-time offenders and an ejection for a second-time infraction.

The matter was first pushed forward by the Fritz Pollard Alliance (FPA), an organization that encourages “adoption of rules and practices that foster diversity on NFL teams”, among other strategic efforts.

In a Press Release dated November 21, 2003, the FPA “called on NFL players to stop using the ‘N’ word, especially after recent incidents in Washington” (Accusations that Redskins offensive tackle Trent Williams used racial slurs at an official on game day) “and Miami” (a la Richie Incognito-Jonathan Martin bullying incidents).

Further, in its November statement, the FPA described its disappointment in the N-word’s casual use around the league, how it is disgraceful due to the word’s history, and also asked players to simply refrain from using the word to show respect to others.

Now, this past week, after meeting with the NFL’s competition committee, John Wooten (the head of the FPA) said he anticipates the NFL will enact the penalty when the issue will be presented to NFL owners in March.

And, Wooten hopes the N-word will be “policed from the parking lot to the equipment room to the locker room… everywhere.”

Unfortunately, this issue has been met with mixed reactions.  There has been push-back from players who don’t find it necessary, and doubt has arisen that the word will ever be successfully banished league-wide anyway.  Apparently, its use is rampant and has been for several years.

For example, in a PFT article on, an attempt was made to curb use of the N-word in the Steelers locker room last season and was partially successfully, but “after a while it came back because it’s the culture… this is what these guys have grown up with.”

But, in my opinion only good can come of this new rule banning the N-word and enforcing penalties.  There is no place for racial slurs anywhere in the workforce, whether meant playfully, harmlessly, or otherwise.  Like it or not, the NFL is a business.  Its locker rooms, offices, and fields are places of work.

And, as in any workplace, respect and professionalism is expected and demanded.  Why is the NFL any different?

Also, while some players may not be offended by racial slurs and accept it as part of their own culture, other players even of the same culture may be.  Why, then, risk the potential to offend when you can just keep quiet?

Sorry, but people’s opinions don’t matter in this issue.  Interpretation is too subjective when it comes to potential harassment issues.

I’ll pose an example from my own life.

For over a decade, I worked as a legal assistant.  Sexual harassment training was often required.

I remember thinking at first, that I didn’t feel it necessary. As a young woman not easily offended, I didn’t think I needed to learn more.  Besides, I felt I could take care of myself if a situation arose that made me uncomfortable.

But, after taking the training and understanding why my bosses wanted to educate us on the issue of harassment, my eyes were opened.

What changed my mind was when the lawyers showed us (in a room full of other assistants) training videos, or re-creations by actors which involved members of the opposite sex interacting in an office situation.

One such situation was when a male boss approached a female assistant in the office to give her a compliment.  He seemed to be very nice and innocently mentioned to her that he thought a blouse she was wearing was very pretty and made her eye color pop.  Then he smiled, patted her on the back gently and told her to keep up the good work.  He then walked away.

So, the lawyers stopped the tape and asked several of us females in attendance to raise our hands if we thought this a potentially offensive act of harassment.  Almost everyone in the room raised their hands- all except me and another female assistant.

I remember thinking – why would a simple compliment be offensive?  It might even be an attempt to boost her self-confidence. I know if it happened to me this way, I probably wouldn’t consider it harassment.

Then, the lawyers played the tape again.  The situation was repeated and the same exact words used, except now the man explicitly leered at the woman in a sexual way.  He again told her that he liked her blouse and that it made her eyes pop. He looked her up and down like she was a piece of meat and told her to keep up the good work.  He then put his hand on her back and rubbed it sexually until finally walking away.

The lawyers again stopped the tape and then asked us what we thought.  All of us, this time, raised our hands, including me.  Yes, I could see that this was a potentially offensive situation.

But, what was the difference in the two videos?  One didn’t offend me and the other did. The exact same words were used in both situations.

It seemed that how the male intended to use the compliment in the latter was what bothered me.

The point of it all, according to the lawyers is not just what is said, but that people interpret experiences differently.  While I could have been alright with the first innocent situation, another person may have interpreted it like the second video.  Additionally, another woman may not like to be complimented and touched, but it could be ok for others.

Thus, it was suggested to us that we simply refrain from any kind of activity like this out of respect for others.

The bottom-line is that in the work place, when it comes to a potential for interpretations to be blurred, it’s best to avoid the topic altogether. A simple, easy tactic that actually takes any part of interpretation out of it.

Similarly, in the NFL, the use of the N-word could potentially offend one player and not another.  Even if said playfully, another player may not see it the same way it was intended.  So, why not just remove it altogether, rather than keep it around for interpretation?

Further, others may be offended by the history of the N-word and not want to hear it used loosely around the league.  Why should they be subjected to it, even if another person doesn’t think it’s a big deal?

Others may argue that this is how the culture always has been in the NFL.  Use of racial slurs have always been used and accepted.  Now a few sensitive people have screwed it up for everyone else.

I challenge that sentiment by suggesting that sexual harassment used to be rampant in work places.  Is it ok to continue to let it happen, just because people may not have spoken up about it then?  And, others may not have a problem with it even now?

Finally, I think that NFL players would benefit from harassment training (racial and homophobic) like I received.  Instead of just instituting a ban, make the players understand it.

After all, the workplace (in the NFL or otherwise) is where most of us spend of our time outside of the home.  It even defines some of us.  And, it’s a place that reflects the current culture we live in.

We should all feel safe, respected, and be treated like professionals at work.  And, all corporations should make an effort to achieve this result.

By the NFL banning the N-word league-wide, this would be a great first step in the right direction to doing just that.

Source : Fritz Pollard Alliance

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