One word is deep-rooted in 400+ years of oppression, hate, and disrespect but has become socially accepted through the globalization of Hip Hop culture — many even argue that a subtle change of two letters to one has changed its entire context.
The other has come to be viewed just as vile and is wrongfully used to describe a culture of people who had their land stolen, identity comically commercialized and wrongfully gambled on being appreciated by their original oppressors.
Both are at the center of its own content controversy and the way the NFL is mishandling one has given insight on how it feels about the other in the eyes of fans, media, and players.
“Wassup my n-word”
A term of endearment, a phrase of solidarity-and-inclusion and the new millennial way of showing love among some African-Americans. This meaning is a far cry from how bigots and racists use its father-term “nigger” to demean, devalue and degrade African-Americans who they are afraid of. With the progression in politics and another African-American winning an Oscar, one would have hoped by now to be able to say use in the past tense, but there are too many examples in the world that remind us that society still is using a form of that word to hate.
Whether NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell wants to admit it or not, the league is on extreme damage control in the aftermath of the backlash from the Richard Sherman interview and the cultural firestorm from the “bullying” issue between Richie Incognito and Jonathan Martin… they are both PR nightmares and the league is scrambling to fix its image within each incident.
But is this Goodell’s or the NFL battle to begin? Some may wonder “How dare a white man to try to tell an African-American man that he can or can’t use this word.” The N-Word usage is a conversation that even within the black community itself has yet to be resolved and despite many attempts to bury it, it appears to be forever engrained in the culture. Some find no issue with using it within the confines of their peers, while others choose not to use the word regardless of circumstance due to its racially charged origin. And even though many white people understand that it is a word never to be uttered out of their mouth, they are often times left confused trying to determine the African-American community’s true feelings on the word due to inconsistencies. Some have even called it an unfair double standard because African-Americans are able to use the word freely, but when another ethnicity says the term it becomes problematic.
It is often times the most used lyric in the rap music that blares throughout many NFL locker rooms and is the punchline of jokes said between teammates off the field, so if a culture of young black athletes isn’t upset over the usage of the word, why should the league even care?
What to call you
The Washington Redskins franchise usage of Native American nicknames dates all the way back to 1930 when they were called the Boston Braves — ironically the same moniker was used by one of the city’s two professional baseball teams. Shortly after, the team name was changed to the Redskins in honor of then-coach Lone Star Dietz an alleged Sioux Indian and for much of its existence, no one took offense to the name being used… until recently.
Unlike the N-word, which has gained some cultural acceptance as time has passed, the disdain for the usage of the nickname Redskin seems to have escalated since the mid-1980’s. As more colleges and universities gave in to societal encouragement and started abandoning questionable nicknames and logos, the pressure began to find itself throbbing at the consciousness of professional franchises as well. Gone is Chief Wahoo in Cleveland and while the Braves nickname remains, the Atlanta baseball franchise no longer uses Chief Noc-A-Homa as a mascot because these teams recognize that some things that were once acceptable are no more. And while there is no official documented explanation of the true etymology of the word, the accepted connotation of the term Redskin is one of great negativity towards Native Americans. There is now an increased urgency by certain channels to have team owner Daniel Snyder discontinue the usage of the word Redskin as the nickname of the Washington franchise.
For the same reason why Eastern Michigan University is now nicknamed the Eagles and not Hurons, why Syracuse University dropped the Saltine Warrior logo in 1978, or why the Redmen are now Redstorm at St. Johns University it is sometimes better to change rather that continue to offend, even if it was never your intent.
Right to demand change:
What is the best way to deal with an issue that you really don’t know how to handle — address it by going to the complete opposite extreme in logic. This is exactly what the NFL is doing by trying to enforce a 15-yard penalty if a player is caught using the n-word during the game.
A penalty? So this is the NFL’s solution to evoke cultural change on its field and the locker room, yes it’s good in theory, but the interpretation of the rule could be so blurred that administering the penalty could blow up in the league’s face if it isn’t handled properly.
What if a white referee is too liberal in calling the penalty or it seems that a black referee does not hear it at all, will there be a reprimand for officials?
If its muttered out of frustration, to no one in particular, will the player be penalized?
If used in a celebratory manner among teammates, will a flag be thrown?
Is there room for the penalty to be harsher if a person of another ethnicity uses the term to disrespect an opponent that happens to be African-American?
Many feel that this attempt to rid itself of an obviously “bad word” is more about the NFL cleaning up its fractured image and not being truly concerned with the well-being of its athletes — similar to the how Commissioner Goodell pushed for a confined tackling area & outlawed helmet to helmet contact within the league only after the NFL was hit with the class-action lawsuit involving former players who sued the league for injuries stemming from post-traumatic concussion syndrome .
Interesting enough it is Richard Sherman who feels that the NFL could be exhibiting some of the hateful traits he dealt with from fans if they make this a league rule;
“It’s an atrocious idea,” Seattle cornerback Richard Sherman told Sports Illustrated. “It’s almost racist, to me. It’s weird they’re targeting one specific word. Why wouldn’t all curse words be banned, then?”
But as Sherman said, why is the league only focusing on banning the N-word and no other disrespectful terms? What about punk, bitch, mother-f*cker or any term that disrespects the gay community — which is another conversation due to the possibility of the league having its first openly gay player in Michael Sam. This goes back to the NFL’s involvement, or lack thereof, in determining if the Washington franchise should continue to use the name Redskins. A greater precedent could be set by taking a stance that says all words that are, or could be, perceived to be negative are banned and any franchise that continues to allow those terms will be subjected to harsh financial penalties.
Including the Redskins name on that list of word no-no’s could mean going against big business and ruffling the feathers of a billion dollar owner and a valuable franchise to the league. While this league is predominantly African-American on the field the power brokers who reside in the owner’s box and have great influence outside of the sport happen to be white men with a lot of green.
So as long as the NFL refuses to deal with the giant “red” elephant in the room they have no right in trying to address the smaller black elephant that is hiding behind it.