Writers of Pro Football Prospectus 2008

03 Mar 2014

MMQB: Language

This week PK talks legislation of the "n-word", the changes in this year's salary cap, and Brandin Cooks.

Posted by: Rivers McCown on 03 Mar 2014

21 comments, Last at 11 Mar 2014, 12:20am by MC2


by mehllageman56 :: Mon, 03/03/2014 - 5:08pm

I don't know where to begin. The idea of the mostly white infra-structure of the NFL deciding to tell the mostly black NFL players that they can't say a word that was used to denigrate black people is just absurd. Are they going to ban honky and whitey too? It seems to me the problem is guys like Richie Incognito using the word, not Richard Sherman.

by dryheat :: Tue, 03/04/2014 - 8:18am

I'm in the camp that says that if the word is horribly offensive when player A says it, it's horribly offensive when player B says it, although I certainly understand the counterpoint. For all the trouble Riley Cooper got in last year, would the event even been reported if someone like Chris Johnson said it?

Growing up (white), I knew the absolute beating I would have taken - from my own parents -- if I used that word -- it makes me cringe to this day when I hear it, and I never liked the idea of black people getting a free pass to use it when the same black people said how mean and hurtful it was. If it's mean and hurtful, why are you calling another black man that word? Reasonable minds can disagree.

As far as the NFL goes, this would be an enforcement nightmare.

by justanothersteve :: Tue, 03/04/2014 - 8:36am

I did not read MMQB and don't intend to read it. I agree the "N" word is bad regardless of who says it. But minorities tend to use derogatory language amongst their own. I say this as someone who is both gay and has a Native American partner. In a gay setting (e.g., gay bar), I may use fag, queer, etc. My partner may also use words I wouldn't use while at a pow-wow, etc. I don't use those words in mixed company, but I do know those who will. I've noticed in the few times I've been the only white guy in a group of blacks or Native peoples that same sort of self-policing occurs (i.e., certain words won't be used in conversation if I'm noticed).

I agree it would be an enforcement nightmare.

by mehllageman56 :: Tue, 03/04/2014 - 10:55am

What people forget is that there are words minorities don't get to use, and usually don't: honky, redneck, etc. The other thing that's important to note in your post is self-policing; this wouldn't be an issue if the Dolphins policed themselves better, or if Riley Cooper could keep his mouth shut. It seems that Cooper started behaving himself, and the Dolphins are losing the worst offender in their workplace, so this seems to be a solution in search of a problem.

by Alexander :: Tue, 03/04/2014 - 12:18pm

Enforcement nightmare is an understatement.

Remember the Ahmad Brooks hit on Drew Brees that was a "phantom call" and could have affected the playoffs and whole season? Well, in that case the announcers were able to kinda-sorta point to his arm sliding into Brees' neck.

Now imagine that instead, Brooks shouted "n*****" at Brees as he got up and got flagged. The viewers would be even more confused and outraged. That is, unless the NFL is going to mic up every player and play the uncensored tape on live broadcasts...

by feng shweez :: Fri, 03/07/2014 - 12:13pm

Your camp is a silly one to be in, methinks. Context (and speaker) are pretty darned important in language.

Example: You can call your wife "honey" all you want. But I suspect she wouldn't take kindly to me calling her that. And when my four year-old shouts "this means war!" it's quite different from when Obama or Putin says it.

Ain't not different with the n-word. Just more fraught.

by dryheat :: Fri, 03/07/2014 - 5:40pm

I don't think anybody is saying "Honey" is an offensive word. I might not like you calling her Honey, but I'm not going to call a cop and accuse you of hate speech.

Look, I get the arguments. But it's hard for me to reconcile 1 black football player calling a black opponent N-word, and saying that it's a term of endearment.

Because going down that road, the N-word ceases to be offensive, it's merely the situation that's offensive. Much like your "Honey" example.

by tuluse :: Fri, 03/07/2014 - 5:54pm

I don't think a word can be offensive on it's own. It's just a word. It's always the context that is offensive.

by Lance :: Fri, 03/07/2014 - 5:41pm

Totally. See my comment 8 below.

by BDC :: Fri, 03/07/2014 - 5:52pm

That is certainly true. On the other hand there are words that are never proper to use in a public setting regardless of who is saying them or to whom. Fuck for example, is never polite to use in public\mixed company. You might call your friend fuckface in private, but it would never be proper to say in public. We all know there are words like this; the NFL is simply saying nigger is one of these words.

Directed at #15

by Lance :: Fri, 03/07/2014 - 7:17pm

Sure, but then again, "on the football field" isn't the same thing as "in a press conference". The reality is that we here maybe... is 1% too high?... a small fraction of what is said on the field. Hell, listeners have trouble understanding what the QB is yelling as an audible. (E.g. Here, where someone wonders if Romo is saying "kill whitey".)

And then, we hear the f-word in public all the time. Stand in line where you have a group of 20-somethings or 30-somethings are recounting events of their week (work, social, parents, etc.) and count how many times you hear the f-word. If I'm around certain "trusted" people are work, I'll use it, too, when I want to express frustration.

Again, I agree with #15 that context matters. The football field isn't Easter Brunch.

by mehllageman56 :: Mon, 03/03/2014 - 5:14pm

I didn't even think of this until reading the comments, but the hypocrisy of the NFL for considering a ban on the N-word by players while keeping the name of the Washington team is unreal.

by RickD :: Thu, 03/06/2014 - 6:06pm

That's certainly a fair point.

My perspective as DC-area Patriots fan is that the Redskins ought to adopt the name of one the local tribes (the Potomac would be the most obvious, or even better, they could go with Patawomeck). That would represent a 180-degree turn in terms of respecting Native Americans.

by tuluse :: Thu, 03/06/2014 - 6:35pm

I, for one, look forward to Army of the Potomac puns in the future.

by Theo :: Mon, 03/03/2014 - 6:59pm

"For those who use it, I say they have no sense of history."
Or maybe they do. Only they've let it behind them.

by Lance :: Tue, 03/04/2014 - 3:43pm

Re the n-word and people who argue that it is always wrong regardless of who says it, I'll offer a possible counter-argument. This is based on the notion that context matters.

There seems to be a cultural/sociological difference between when a black football player says it to another black football player while in a game, and then when Riley Cooper says it because he's mad at some (no doubt) black bouncers at a concern for denying him whatever access he wanted.

When my girlfriend says "don't be an idiot" because I suggest some dumb idea, I react differently than if I heard it from a gas station attendant while filling up my car. Same words, but the context (i.e. who is saying it and why) matters.

This is in part because I generally understand what my girlfriend means when she says it, and I understand that she's being playful. Standard social practice and decorum in the US, on the other hand, dictates that you don't insult strangers, especially when they are customers.

The n-word has a long social history and lots of baggage associated with it, and when a white person uses it in reference to a black person, it is hard to escape that the word is used to express racial inferiority and servitude.

When you hear a black person say it to another black person, it can be playful or it can be an insult. But the insult, it seems, is just an insult-- a serious one, of course. But one that is stripped of some of the baggage because of who is saying it.

This social and cultural baggage may explain why there isn't quite the outrage at "Redskin" in use right now. When one things of the mistreatment of Native Americans, it seems to have been centuries ago (seems to), while the MLK-led Civil Rights movement was just a few decades ago. To someone born in the 70's like me, and living in the south (or wherever one wants to place Oklahoma), you actually heard people (mostly older adults) actually use the n-word. It was in books and movies.

On the other hand, you never heard anyone say "Redskin" at all. That's probably because one almost never encountered Native Americans enough to hear someone's grandmother mutter something in the car about how she can't understand what that minority is saying, or complaining about how they dress, etc., etc., etc.

I'm not suggesting that "redskin" is fine, or not offensive. I'm simply arguing that it lacks the same cultural force as the n-word for historical/demographic reasons.

Last thing: As a white guy, I don't even care about "honky" as an insult. Or "cracker" or whatever else. It just sounds like you're from the 70's or something and trying too hard.

That said, if I were in an argument with a black guy and he called me a honky it would give me pause, simply because he has chosen to toss out an insult (or so he thinks) based on my skin (and not something based on how I'm a little overweight, or nearing middle age, or whatever). Which, perhaps, brings me back to my point above: context matters. Some white frat guy calling me honky is a joke. A black guy saying the same thing may not be insulting, but it does change the dimensions of our argument. Likewise, I'm not sure that a black guy using the n-word is quite the same thing as a white guy.

Sorry for the long post. It's been on my mind the last few days.

by BDC :: Tue, 03/04/2014 - 8:22pm

So let me see if I understand this correctly. The NFL is going to penalize players for using a racial slur, while at the same time endorsing their own use of a racial slur. Brilliant!

by Chris UK :: Wed, 03/05/2014 - 11:38am

Somebody who flies every all the time complains about someone using towels for global warming? Hmm.

by Guest789 :: Thu, 03/06/2014 - 7:30pm

What about Al Gore?


“Treat a man as he is, and he will remain as he is. Treat a man as he could be, and he will become what he should be.”

by Guest789 :: Thu, 03/06/2014 - 7:30pm

What about Al Gore?


“Treat a man as he is, and he will remain as he is. Treat a man as he could be, and he will become what he should be.”

by MC2 :: Tue, 03/11/2014 - 12:20am

No word is ever, in and of itself, offensive. It's the meaning behind it that may be offensive.

For example, "fuck you" is no more offensive than "screw you" would be in the same situation. Similarly, it's just as offensive to say that someone is "full of crap" as it is to say that they are "full of shit", and so forth.

And given that fact, as well as the fact that it's virtually impossible to craft a rule that can accurately anticipate every situation and take into account all the possible meanings that a word or phrase can have, trying to legislate against "hate speech" is, at best, a waste of time.