Sticks, Stones and a Blindside Tackle May Break My Bones...

I read a report on ESPN's website, or mobile site, or some site claiming an affiliation with ESPN, that the NFL is considering instituting a 15 yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty for use of racial slurs. Actually, the story pretty much states one epithet in particular. It is a bit uncertain whether the penalty would be invoked for all ethnic/homophobic phrases.

My initial reaction upon reading this was, as long as you can still tell another player that you are going to run down to the red light district and pay $15 dollars to violate his mother after the game, there really shouldn't be a problem.

I try to avoid the use of ethnic slurs and demeaning language, and support efforts to cut them back, but trying to penalize players for what they say to one another on the field is a bit on the ridiculous side. Nobody likes to be called names, and nobody likes to be talked down to, but you should know when stepping out on the field that, along with the possibility of being injured, there is a good chance that the players on the other team will be saying mean things to you in hopes of breaking your concentration. Part of your job as a competitor it to ignore it and carry on with the task at hand.

There is also the question of how far is the league going to even try to take this. The article to which I linked only referred to one particular slur, but mentioned the rules committee could discuss others. Will they differentiate between uses of that word? Will an African-American player who says the word but pronounces it with an "a" get the same penalty as a European-American who annunciates the "er" ending? Does this mean we can expect the home team to get penalized if a song by the collective band of  Easy E, Dr. Dre and Ice T is played over the stadium PA system?

More than that, suppose a cornerback tells a receiver, "You ain't getting by me, boy." Is that going to warrant a yellow flag? If a nose tackle tries to get an offensive guard discombobulated by telling him "Wow, those pants really do show off your assets, baby," will that get the ref's whistle blasting?  Should a player be kicked out of the game for asking an opponent who is complaining to the side judge after every play, "Does that whine go with cheese and a cracker?"

I honestly don't know how much of a problem this really is in the NFL right now anyway. I am not anywhere near the playing fields during the games, so I don't know what they really say. I know that bullying has become a visible issue as a result of Richie Incognito's bullying of Jonathan Martin, so the league probably feels some pressure to do something about the situation, but that was mostly in the locker room and the practice field and the game time rule would not have much effect on that. Having spent over twenty years in the military and knowing what we would kid each other about, and remembering how we would refer to the enemy, I can imagine that participants in a violent game might be prone to a few off color remarks occasionally, especially during tense situations.

Should players be more respectful of one another and just shut up and play the game? Of course they should. Efforts toward increasing sportsmanship during sports is a great idea, but to invoke such a severe penalty against a player and his team for something that does no real harm to other players and gives no undue advantage to his own team is taking it too far. This isn't Scrabble. Let the players' actions decide the outcome of the game, not their words.

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