Feb 24, 2014; Indianapolis, IN, USA; South Carolina Gamecocks defensive end Jadeveon Clowney (R) talks to Pittsburh Panthers Aaron Donald (L) during the 2014 NFL Combine at Lucas Oil Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports
As I’m sure many of you have heard by now, the NFL organization is discussing penalizing players for the use of the N-word on the field. As a former player of organized football and fan of the game itself in all aspects, this bothers me. When will it be enough? How far is too far?
Football is a game played between men. It brings about a respect between the men who play their position; football is a chess match that requires physical prowess as much as intelligence and preparation. The game itself should be played with the utmost respect to human character, dignity, and honor. The man you square up against may be physically different from you but the winner of the game is decided upon skill, will, and sometimes a bit of luck. Not the N-word.
At the same time, the NFL is a professional league. Much like we have rules to follow in the office or in our place of business, players must also follow rules to keep up the professional demeanor of the game. With a rule that bans such a word, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell is showing an initiative to “maintain the professional demeanor of the game.” Yet to what extent is Goodell overstepping his boundaries? Could the N-word be too big of a bite to chew, even for the NFL?
A Slippery Slope
Feb 22, 2014; Indianapolis, IN, USA; Missouri Tigers defensive end Michael Sam conduct a press conference in a crowded room of media during the 2014 NFL Combine at Lucas Oil Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports
To carry out a physical change to the game in the form of negative reinforcement does not stand to solve anything. The use of the N-word is a social and cultural issue, not an issue meant to be reinforced on the gridiron. Doing so is a slippery slope, one upon which the players lose the freedom to speak their mind. Whether for good or worse, each person is entitled to say what they want to say, act how they want to act, and do what they choose because they have the right to do so. It may be the N-word first, but then what? Will homosexual references be next in line due to the recent news of Michael Sam, the first openly gay NFL player? What if white players in the NFL begin to complain about racist remarks made towards them due to their ethnicity? or what if, players begin to complain that the use of the rule is too reinforced, ruining the game for viewers and players alike due to the unpredictability of NFL officiating?
The use of the N-word goes deeper than any rule or officiating can fix. It is entwined within the context of our society; change does not come from a rule in a game. It comes from the parents. It comes from education and freedom of speech. It comes from discussion and reason, it comes from listening and seeking to understand people, not by enforcing laws upon the people. If anything, a rule against the use of the N-word only gives the influence of the N-word more power.
The Call For Change
The NFL needs to stop trying to be the advocate for social change. They can accomplish more for society and future generations by creating a professional sport in which all social issues and controversy is not addressed on the field. Show America that the NFL is a game where your color, hometown, school, and ethnicity DON’T matter. Professional football is a game played between men and showed be treated as such; don’t let the meddling and ignorance of foolish people hinder a beautiful game. People will be people; the NFL needs to show that the NFL is a league of men, a league of men who are respected for their actions on the field and who carry the same professionalism off the field. The use of any such language has no place on the field, yet we cannot create a rule for every word that causes controversy.
Solving the issue belongs for off the field discussion and action, not in a game. We live in America, where social media is life and freedom of speech is held close to the heart. To play with the freedom of the players is the first step to the deterioration of a game we all hold dear. If we want to create a better world for future generations, lets start by talking about it. Let’s start by creating a free environment that dictates the better man on the field. An environment that benefits the players not because of their race, but because of their actions. Stop giving the N-word power. Then it will have no power to hold over the league and the people who love the sport.
If you really want to solve the issue, start behaving like men and be responsible for your actions. As a professional, just like when you were a senior in high school, people look up to you off the field and your actions can dictate the decisions of others. So if Goodell wants to fix this issue, take care of it at the root. Work at making the difference off the field.
We’re all people. Let’s start acting like it.
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