Sticks and stones may break my bones, but names will never hurt me. ~ Old English Nursery Rhyme
Although it is difficult to sympathize with a man making more than $40 million per year, it is easy to understand if Roger Goodell is tearing his hair out over the recent behavior of some of his current and former players.
In the past few months, Goodell has had to navigate the NFL through a “bullying” scandal involving thousands of racial, sexist and homophobic slurs (Miami), an alleged fiancée beating (Baltimore), a horrific alleged serial rape scandal (NFL Channel) and a video recording involving the use of the N word by a star player (Philadelphia).
The Commissioner has marshalled his legions of counselors to address the unrelenting terrible publicity associated with these scandals. New policies and procedures are in the works and a complete overhaul of locker room protocol will greet players returning to the field in a few months.
No doubt there will be suspensions and other penalties meted out by the Commissioner as well. These actions are commendable and, perhaps as important to the NFL, they demonstrate the league’s commitment to cleaning up its workplace.
But is the NFL going too far in its efforts to regulate behavior on the field?
N Word Penalty
One proposed action, imposing a penalty on the field of play for use of a vulgar slur, the N word, has placed the NFL on the precipice of a very slippery slope. As often occurs with knee jerk reactions to shocking, ugly scenarios in society, there is a tendency to overreact to address the unwanted behavior. By entering the quagmire of regulating hate speech, the NFL has opened up a Pandora’s Box of controversy that may bring the league more than it bargained for with this proposal to stop the use of the N word.
Already, Super Bowl star Richard Sherman is criticizing the effort as an “atrocious idea” and he may have a point. How did the league arrive at a policy which limits just one offensive word? How about regulating slurs directed at one group that constitutes 25% of the NFL fan base, the ladies!
While the proposed action to address one specific racial slur, the use of the N word, is very aggressive by corporate standards and, on its face, deserving of praise, is it enough?
What about slurs against women, which can be nasty and offensive to women?
How about gays?
In preparation of its first publicly gay player, the NFL is considering strict locker room penalties for homophobic slurs, but nothing is currently proposed for on the field slurs. What about other ethnic groups, why don’t they count in this effort to regulate offensive slurs?
Any proposal from the NFL that regulates hate speech that occurs on the field of play is nothing short of amazing, particularly for a league, which has among its members a team which uses the R word for its mascot! There are many questions that arise concerning these actions, and many ramifications, but if the NFL is in for a penny, than maybe it should be in for a pound, by penalizing all hate speech on the field of play.
In light of recent terrible behavior by players against women, should the NFL regulate hateful slurs against females by also imposing field penalties for such offensive slurs? Legal scholars could quickly tie the league in knots with questions concerning the details of these new regulations.
For example, should a penalty be imposed when one player calls another man “Sally” on the field of play, even if the “slur” is out of hearing of any women? Which offensive slurs should be penalized? There are some very nasty words men use to denigrate and insult women. Why aren’t these words restricted? What about gays? Hispanics? Asians? The list could go on forever.
There is no question that the NFL may be opening a Pandora’s Box of racial, ethnic, gender and sexual orientation legal issues that, to quote Tevye in Fiddler on the Roof, would “cross a Rabbi’s eyes.” But since the NFL has “opened the door” to this issue, the Commissioner may have a tough time ranking the various groups insulted by his players so he may be forced to give equal treatment to all by penalizing all hate speech that occurs on the field of play.
Or, the NFL may have to just forget the whole thing and go back to using common sense.
Submitted by Robert Ward