Okay - here we go: a 65-year-old white guy opining about racial epithets. And lest you have been under a rock, the 'N-word' is the politically correct version of 'nigger'.
We know that the National Football League thinks the reprehensible term 'redskin' - as in 'Washington Redskins' - is okay and not a derogatory term for Native Americans. On the other hand, it does seem to feel that the word 'nigger' is a terrible word and should not be used. I agree. But it is proposing to impose 15-yard penalties on teams whose players use it on the field, even when used between teammates.
To be fair, the league seems to be backing off from that position.
'Nigger' is a terribly racist term - as an OWG (old white guy) I know that. I suspect African-Americans of my generation would say the same. In the early 1970s I remember watching a football game with an older (c. 50) white Southern man. As an African-American running back took the ball and streaked toward the end zone, my friend exclaimed, 'Look at that nigger run!'. I was stunned, but no apology was forthcoming; that was just how he referred to African-Americans. I suspect he felt it was 'natural' to call African-Americans 'niggers' or 'nigras'. But if he or I had called any African-American that word to his/her face, we would have fully expected to receive a knuckle sandwich, or worse, in return. And it would have been deserved.
Back to the NFL.
There does seem to be a difference of opinion about the wisdom of the NFL's proposed action. According to some, there is a difference between 'nigger' and 'nigga'. The former is a derogatory term, the latter term is apparently used among young African-American men (mainly) as a synonym for 'man' or 'bro', as in 'Hey, nigga, how you doing?' I suspect this is like one Italian-American man saying to another, 'Hey, wop, how you doing?' But an non-Italian should not try it, just like a white guy should not say, 'Hey, nigga, whassup?' to an African-American. A former white NFL quarterback, Kerry Collins, tried this a number of years ago and it ended badly.
I recall Michael Wilbon, a well-respected African-American sports journalist who is 55, explain this fact to his incredulous white colleague Tony Kornheiser, who is my age and a fellow Long Islander. But Jason Whitlock, another African-American sports journalist who is 46, disagrees with Wilbon.
Richard Sherman, a young African-American star cornerback for the Seattle Seahawks, and Jason McCourty, who occupies the same position for the Tennessee Titans, were both quoted in a great column by Peter King:
“It’s a common word in so many players’ everyday lives,” said Tennessee cornerback Jason McCourty. “Among African-American players and people, it’s used among friends all the time. It seems like a bit much for the NFL to try to get rid of it. It’s a pretty common word in the locker room, like ‘man,’ ‘bro,’ ‘nigga.’ But once a white person says it, it’s a derogatory term.”
Sherman emphasized that the n-word ending in “-er” is racist, but the n-word ending in “-a” is not, when used among African-American players.
“It’s in the locker room and on the field at all times,” Sherman said. “I hear it almost every series out there on the field.”
But another player said this:
Free agent linebacker D’Qwell Jackson said, “Ultimately, if the NFL can get it done, it’s great for our game. But I think refs have a hard enough time officiating the game now. Now they’d be asked to police language?”
King's column also has the opinions of older African-American former players who don't feel the way that that Sherman and McCourty do.
My take? I don't really have a dog in this show. But I like the way that Herm Edwards, former NFL coach and player, feels: let the players do it.
'70% of the players in the National Football League are black. They can clean it up.'
View his entire 'rant'. You, go, bro!
"We're male by birth, men by choice." - Herm Edwards