NFL Considers Penalizing Players for Using N-Word 

Sports writers debate whether this particular attempt to police conduct on the field is even realistic.


Defending N-Word in NFL Puts Writers in Awkward Position

Newsrooms Don’t Allow Words for Which Athletes Get a Pass

The NFL is considering penalizing players 15 yards if they use the N-word on the field, leaving sportswriters and columnists who question such a penalty in an ironic position: They would be sanctioning language that they are not be permitted to use in their own workplaces.

"I can only speak for my experiences but I have never worked in a newsroom or anywhere else where use of the n-word, even in a casual manner, would be acceptable," Tim Stephens, president of the Associated Press Sports Editors, told Journal-isms by email on Wednesday.

"The locker room has typically seemed to have its own code, but the Martin case has raised the question as to whether it should. It also raises excellent questions as to whether conduct that clearly would not be tolerated in a traditional work setting should be acceptable in the work environment of the athlete."

Stephens is deputy managing editor of His reference is to the case of Miami Dolphins tackle Jonathan Martin, who "walked away from the Dolphins last season after accusing teammate Richie Incognito of bullying and harassing him, in the words of Anwar S. Richardson, writing Tuesday for Yahoo Sports. "His accusations launched an NFL investigation, plus resulted in Incognito’s suspension. The investigation recently concluded, and the Ted Wells report backed up Martin’s claims of verbal and physical abuse," Richardson wrote.

The Dolphins expressed interest in having Martin return to the team, Jason La Canfora reported Tuesday for, but Martin’s aents rebuffed them.

The Dolphins’ locker-room climate included use of the N-word by Incognito, who is white. The NFL asked Wells, co-chair of the Litigation Department at the New York law firm of Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison LLP, to investigate Martin’s allegations of an unsatisfactory work environment. Wells’ report was released Feb. 14.

" ‘People call me a (n-word) to my face,’ Martin told his father in a text. ‘Happened 2 days ago. And I laughed it off. Because I am too nice of a person. They say terrible things about my sister. I don’t do anything. I suppose it’s white private school conditioning, turning the other cheek," the report quoted Martin as writing.

Despite the report’s unflattering portrait of the locker room, the proposed penalty for using the N-word is meeting resistance from some African American commentators.

"While I understand the need to look at language on and off the field because these players are seen as role models, I’m not sure this is something that can be policed effectively on the field," James E. Causey wrote in the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel. Causey also wrote, ‘Bottom line: The use of the N-word and the emotion wrapped around it varies from person to person and from situation to situation. I know the history of the word, but I can tell you that not a day goes by when I don’t hear it used or referenced. . . ."

At and the Times-Picayune in New Orleans, a headline writer for columnist Jarvis DeBerry framed the issue as one of free speech: "With N-word ban, NFL proposes to police language."

Michael Wilbon, who has said he grew up in a household where his father addressed him with the N-word, said Monday on ESPN’s "Pardon the Interruption,"  "So you’re gonna have a league with no black owners and a white commissioner — middle-aged and advanced-aged white men — say to black players, mostly — because that’s what we’re talking about — ‘you can’t use the N-word on the field of play, or we’re gonna penalize you.’

"I’ve got a massive problem with that. I don’t think it’s gonna happen. I know there are black men of the same age — John Wooten being one of them — who say ‘no, you’ve got to take this word out of the workplace.’ I understand that. But I don’t want it enforced like this."

Wilbon also appeared on "Outside The Lines Special Report: The N-word," an ESPN special that aired Monday night. 

Earl Ofari Hutchinson, a syndicated columnist whose work appears on HuffPost BlackVoices, agreed that black players would bear the brunt of punishment. "And they should for the very reason that several NFL players, when asked about it, have declared the proposed ban DOA with the shrug and a quip, ‘Hey, it’s part of the culture, ‘ " Hutchinson wrote.

"Culture? That’s the problem. In times past, a parade of black comedians and rappers had virtually canonized the word. Mercifully, many of them got the message that it’s not hip, cool, funny and there’s absolutely no shock value in it anymore, and have purged it from their act or toned down on using it. But that doesn’t seem to include many black [ballplayers] who still cling to the lame rationales that the more a black person uses the word the less offensive it becomes. Or, it’s a term of endearment. Or, there’s no offense to it because everyone uses it."

Journal-isms asked Marc J. Spears, an NBA writer for Yahoo Sports who chairs the Sports Task Force of the National Association of Black Journalists, whether there are newsrooms where it would be all right for sports reporters to use the N-word among each other, and if there was a difference between the playing field and the newsroom in that regard.

"Zero," Spears replied by email.

"The difference between the NFL and NBA and the newsroom is the first two are predominantly black while the latter is predominately white. It’s complicated. But ultimately you are at work so it should be respected as such regardless to an individual’s feeling about the word."

A predecessor as Sports Task Force chair, Gregory H. Lee Jr., executive sports editor at the SunSentinel in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., said much the same.

"A newsroom is a professional environment. I would find it inappropriate to articulate any type of slur in the newsroom. It is something that I don’t remember hearing in my 20 years in newsrooms," Lee, who is also immediate past president of NABJ, said by email. "The NFL has a different climate as people have read in the Ted Wells Report."

But as Jason Reid wrote in the Washington Post, "For NFL players, the field is their office. There are laws prohibiting the use of discriminatory language in the workplace. In no other business are employees legally empowered to harass co-workers based on their race, ethnicity, religious preference or sexual orientation. Why should the working environment in the NFL be any different? It’s as simple as that, though I realize use of the N-word is complex."

Writing for, Patrick Rishe, an economics professor and the founder/director of Sportsimpacts, said the issue is also about economics.

"Though some players, journalists, and others would argue that whites shouldn’t dictate how black players speak to each other, they miss the point that these games are not played in a vacuum," Rishe wrote. "They are for public consumption, and a large percentage of the public doesn’t want to hear the word used in any context under any circumstance.

"With mostly white fans in the stands and a mostly white audience watching/hearing live sound on telecasts (as the Scarborough data suggests), coupled with a sizable portion of the black population (especially those that want nothing to do with that word), the NFL wants to again protect the message it sends about what is acceptable behavior.

"People that run the NFL, along with its media partners who between 2014 and 2021 will supply the league with average media revenues of $4.95 billion annually, have the right to dictate how their game is perceived and presented. Though a privately run organization, the NFL has a very public profile. As such, they have the right to do what they feel is necessary to protect The Shield. . . ."

On the issue of whether such a rule is enforceable, it might be helpful to recall a 2007 incident among journalists, the last time such an issue came up in this column.

Ken Bedford, a cameraman at WLS-TV, the ABC owned-and-operated station in Chicago, was given five days’ suspension without pay when he used the word while jostling with another photographer for a shot. He told Journal-isms then that he wanted it understood that his use of the word was not racial, but an expression of "male bravado" in an extremely competitive situation and that black people use the word in "dual ways."

But, Bedford added, "I’m being punished by my station because they interpret it as a racial epithet. It should not be used because in society it is now not accepted, whether you mean it in an endearing way or in any other way. I have to take that position and put this thing behind me."

John F. Banzhaf III, Indian Country Today Media Network: NFL Hypocrisy: Banning the N-Word, But Supporting the R-Word

James E. Causey, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: NFL might penalize use of the N-word. But how?

Jarvis DeBerry, | the Times-Picayune: With N-word ban, NFL proposes to police language

DJ Dunson and Michael Tillery, the Shadow League: Versus: Differing Opinions On The N-Word’s Role In Sports And Black Culture

Steve Eder and Ben Shpigel, New York Times: Two Dolphins’ Paths to a Bullying Scandal

Ricardo A. Hazell, the Shadow League: The Problem With My Nigga

Huffington Post: ESPN Host Michael Wilbon Disagrees With The NFL’s Pending N-Word Rule (VIDEO)

Earl Ofari Hutchinson, syndicated: Black Players Get the Flag with NFL’s ‘N-Word’ Ban

Simon Moya-Smith, NFL may throw flag on N-word, but what about the ‘R-word’?

Kevin Patra, Clark: Dan Rooney wanted N-word out of locker room

Jason Reid, Washington Post: NFL is right to ban N-word, other slurs, from the playing field

Shandel Richardson, South Florida SunSentinel: Chris Bosh says NFL should ban all slurs, not just N-word

Patrick Rishe, The NFL’s ‘N-Word’ Debate: Economic And Marketing Considerations

Bob Ray Sanders, Star-Telegram, Fort Worth, Texas: The Redskins are fighting a battle they can’t wi

Jason Whitlock, Throw a flag on the N-word

In Anti-LBGT Climate, Uganda Paper Names "200 Top" Gays

"A Ugandan newspaper published a list Tuesday of what it called the country’s ‘200 top’ gays, outing some Ugandans and raising fears of violence against those named just a day after the president enacted a severe anti-gay law," Rodney Muhumuza reported Tuesday for the Associated Press.

"Many on the list ‘are scared and they need help,’ said Pepe Julian Onziema, a prominent Ugandan gay activist who was named in in the Red Pepper tabloid. ‘Some want to leave the country and they are asking to be helped.’

"Meanwhile, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said Monday’s signing of the bill by President Yoweri Museveni marked ‘a tragic day for Uganda and for all who care about the cause of human rights.’

"He warned that Washington could cut aid to the East African nation over the new law, which punishes gay sex with up to life in prison. . . .

"U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon demanded the revision or repeal of the law, warning on Tuesday that it could fuel prejudice and harassment against gays.

"The Red Pepper ran its list of names — and some pictures — in a front-page story under the headline ‘EXPOSED!’ . . ."

Ugandan LGBT rights activist Kasha Jacqueline Nabagesera, who was on the list, spoke Wednesday on the Canadian Broadcasting Corp.’s "Q with Jian Ghomeshi," Kristen Hare reported for the Poynter Institute.

" ‘Why are they doing this?’ Ghomeshi asked. ‘Why are the newspapers and other media hostile toward the gay community in Uganda?’

" ‘They’re doing this because, first of all, they are using us to make sales,’ Nabagesera said. ‘The issue of homosexuality is a very controversial issue in the country. So everyone will definitely run to buy a newspaper … it’s really just taking advantage of a marginalized community.’ . . ."

On NPR’s "Tell Me More" Wednesday, Ugandan gay activist Frank Mugisha told host Michel Martin, "They have said that we recruit children into homosexuality, but, you know, with the homophobia that exists in Uganda, I find it strange that actually a politician would believe this because if any person recruited one person in school, they would get arrested or they would get beaten or they would get exposed. We have the media, you know, exposing people who are known to be gay. How come they don’t expose anyone who has been in school recruiting someone? . . ."

Errol Louis, Daily News, New York: Africa’s horrifying persecution of gays (Feb. 20)

Hong Kong Editor Slashed by Attacker With Meat Cleaver

"The former editor of a Hong Kong newspaper whose abrupt dismissal in January sparked protests over press freedom is in critical condition after being hacked Wednesday by an assailant with a meat cleaver, police said," Kelvin Chan reported for the Associated Press.

"Police said a man wearing a motorcycle helmet attacked Kevin Lau in a residential neighborhood and then fled on a motorcycle driven by another man.

"Lau was hospitalized in critical condition with slashes in his back and legs, said Kwan King-pan, acting superintendent of Hong Kong Police.

"Police did not announce any motive for the attack and appealed to the public for information.

"Lau, 49, was named editor of the respected Ming Pao newspaper in 2012 but was replaced last month by a Malaysian journalist with no local experience. Lau was transferred to the parent company’s electronic publishing unit. The move raised fears among journalists that the newspaper’s owners were moving to curb aggressive reporting on human rights and corruption in China. . . ."

FCC Member Denies Attempt to Chill Journalists’ Speech

"FCC Commissioner and former acting chairwoman Mignon Clyburn defended the commission’s Critical Information Needs study Wednesday, Feb. 26 in a speech at the Media Institute in Washington, saying she would never try to chill speech or influence journalists and that the study was an effort to gauge the market, not shape it," John Eggerton reported Wednesday for Multichannel News.

The Multi-Market Study of Critical Information Needs aimed to help the commission figure out how to lower entry barriers for minorities in broadcasting, Katy Bachman reported previously for Adweek.

"According to a text of the speech obtained by Multichannel News, Clyburn told the group that the intent of the study, which was put out for public notice last [May] when Clyburn was heading the agency, was to ‘gather data and other information about whether there are any market entry barriers, preventing local communities from receiving important information.’

"Clyburn noted that the FCC had been the center of attention over that study in the past couple of weeks. That included the suggestion in some quarters that Clyburn was an administration agent of newsroom intrusion or influence in a backdoor attempt to insure news balance akin to the FCC’s discredited fairness doctrine.

" ‘As a person who spent 14 years running a small weekly, I would never be a part of any effort to chill speech, shape the news or influence news gatherers,’ she told her audience of media execs, lawyers and others. ‘I am about facilitating ownership and opportunities and making sound decisions about our most critical industries based on solid research and not rhetoric.’ "

Rem Rieder, USA Today: The FCC’s journalism fiasco

NAHJ President Urges Protection of Mexican Journalists

"It’s early February, and it’s raining heavily in Mexico City when the news comes out," Jasmine Garsd wrote Thursday for "Three bodies were found in Las Choapas, located in the state of Veracruz, near the Gulf of Mexico. Gruesome discoveries like these are not uncommon in Mexico, much less in Veracruz, a state torn apart by drug-related violence. But today’s news still weighs heavy — one of the bodies found belonged to union leader Eduardo Guillen, and another belonged to journalist Gregorio Jimenez, who’d gone missing almost a week ago.

"Jimenez worked for newspapers Notisur and El Liberal. He’d been reporting about kidnappings, among them, Guillen’s. Last week, at least five gunmen forced Jimenez out of his home and drove him away in an SUV. Officials in Veracruz have speculated that Jimenez was killed in a personal vendetta, but few believe this — journalists and activists across the country are asking for full investigation.

"Jimenez is one of more than 100 journalists who have disappeared or been killed in Mexico since 2000, according to the PEN American Center for freedom of expression. Fifteen of those have been in Veracruz. Although violence against journalists is a widespread problem in Latin America, Mexico is currently one of the most dangerous countries for reporters in the Western Hemisphere. A week after Jimenez is found, the National Association for Hispanic Journalists issues a statement condemning the violence against journalists in the country.

" ‘This is enough. How much longer will local and national government leaders cross their arms and do nothing about the growing number of journalist murders?’ the group’s president, Hugo Balta, asks. He exhorts presidents of both Mexico and the U.S. to do a better job of protecting journalists. . . ."

Ruben Navarrette Jr., Washington Post Writers Group: Mexicans’ skepticism fuels legend of El Chapo

Latino Leader Faults Foreign Owners of El Diario

"With the purchase of 90 percent ownership of El Diario-La Prensa and its parent company, impreMedia, back in 2012 by the Argentine newspaper, La Nacion, the nature and future of this 100 year old Latino community institution in New York has become open to question," Angelo Falcón wrote Monday for the National Institute for Latino Policy, of which he is president.

Today, Falcón wrote, "what is unusual is the apparent takeover by a narrow set of nationalities, most with little or no real knowledge of the experience of Latinos in New York and the United States. The fact that the overwhelming majority of Latinos in this city are Puerto Rican, Dominican, Mexican, Colombian and Ecuadoran appears irrelevant to the new owners and managers of El Diario, which is troubling.

"But most disturbing is the apparent lack of outreach to these communities by the new owners and managers. Even when El Diario was bought some time ago by a Canadian owner, there was at least an effort by these non-Latinos to engage the Latino community in a dialogue about their plans for the paper, even establishing a community advisory board. What the current owners are projecting is a offensive and patronizing arrogance. . . ."

"16 Women Journalists to Watch in the Middle East"

"Female reporters in the Middle East have shown exceptional courage on the front lines of war, dodging bullets, fending off sexual harassment and lining the corridors of power to deliver the news," the Washington-based Al-Monitor reported.

"In September last year, Jill Filipovic of the Guardian created a stir with her article ‘Can girls even find Syria on a map,’ observing that ‘The overwhelming majority of expert talking heads and op-ed writers on US intervention in Syria are male.’

"We picked up that theme and asked 16 of the top women journalists covering the Middle East for Al-Monitor and other publications — Rania Abouzeid, Asmaa al-Ghoul, Deborah Amos, Ayah Aman, Francesca Borri, Yasemin Congar, Tulin Daloglu, Hala Jaber, Zeina Khodr, Mazal Mualem, Laura Rozen, Sarah el-Sirgany, Barbara Slavin, Liz Sly, Bel Trew and Amberin Zaman — what is it like to be a female journalist in one of the most dangerous regions in the world and how gender has played a role in their reporting, if at all? . . ."

The Vienna-based International Press Institute Wednesday described Al-Monitor "an edgy news and commentary site launched in the aftermath of the Arab Spring that brands itself as ‘the pulse of the Middle East.’  " The press freedom organization awarded the site this year’s International Press Institute Free Media Pioneer Award.

"12 Years a Slave" Author’s Kin Saw Ending on His 3rd Try

"With the Oscars just a few days away, WNYC and PRI’s ‘The Takeaway’ examines the real stories that have inspired some of this year’s Best Picture nominees," the New York public radio station announces.

"Host John Hockenberry sits down with Clayton Adams, the great-great-great-grandson of Solomon Northup, whose memoir inspired the film ’12 Years a Slave,’ to discuss what the film and Northup’s memoir meant to Adams and his family (audio). Adams also imagines what he might say if he were to accept the Best Picture Oscar in this poignant and touching interview."

Of his experience seeing "12 Years a Slave," Adams said, "I saw the movie three times, it took me three times just to be able to stay to the end to actually see the ending. . . ."

Short Takes

For the NPR story "Democratic Sen. Landrieu Walks A Fine Line In Red Louisiana," reporter Ailsa Chang put on the record Tuesday the sentiments of a Louisiana voter who did not bother to speak in the usual code. Beau Broussard of Galliano in Lafourche Parish, La., told Chang, "I don’t vote for black people, lady. No, ma’am. I don’t vote for black people. They got their place, I got my place. That’s the way I was raised."

"Monday afternoon saw the debut of two new MSNBC programs: The Reid Report (hosted by Joy Reid) and Ronan Farrow Daily. Both premieres were met with tepid ratings, including fourth-place finishes in the key 25-54 demographic," Andrew Kirell reported Tuesday for Mediaite.

"CNN confirmed earlier this week that ‘Piers Morgan Tonight’ would be ending its three-year run shortly, and Ted Nugent took all the credit during an interview on the very same network Monday," Greg Gilman reported Tuesday for the Wrap. " ‘I got Piers Morgan’s ass thrown out, and I’ll do the same with Don Lemon and Wolf Blitzer when I can,’ Nugent told anchor Erin Burnett over a satellite feed . . . on ‘OutFront.’ . . ."

"The Workplace Bullying Institute (WBI) defined workplace bullying as ‘abusive conduct that is threatening, intimidating, humiliating, work sabotage or verbal abuse’ in its 2014 national survey," Gregg Morris of Hunter College reported on Tuesday. "Key results: 27 percent of all adult Americans have directly experienced it, 21 percent have witnessed it; 56 percent of the perpetrators are bosses, 68 percent of the perpetrators are male, and 60 percent of targets (recipients) are female. . . . Employers do little to stop workplace bullying. . . ."

"The 4-month-old cable network Fusion is taking a victory lap following coverage of two major stories in Latin America: the chaos in Venezuela and the capture of the world’s most wanted drug lord. Fusion CEO Isaac Lee, who is also president of Univision News, praised the partnerships with the channel’s parents, ABC News and Univision, while taking a jab at the competition," Chris Ariens reported Monday for TVNewser. On Fusion Tuesday, Venezuelan-born journalist Mariana Atencio outlined, the "Top 3 Reasons American Media Needs To Pay Attention To Venezuela."

Tomoko Hosaka, a longtime member of the Asian American Journalists Association, has been named an AAJA representative to the board of Unity: Journalists for Diversity, AAJA announced on Wednesday. Hosaka, a journalist-turned-digital media entrepreneur, succeeds Sharon Chan of the Seattle Times. Hosaka served on the national board representing Asia and San Francisco from 2007 to 2013. For the past two years, she has also been a governing board member. Hosaka is chief operating officer of Plympton, whose brands include DailyLit and Rooster, a new curated reading service for the smartphone.

"This month the Committee to Protect Journalists released its annual analysis of Attacks on the Press, including a ‘Risk List’ of the places where press freedom suffered most in 2013. As you might expect, conflict areas filled much of the list — Syria, Egypt, Turkey — but the place on the top of the list was not a country. It was cyberspace," Josh Stearns reported Tuesday for PBS MediaShift.

On Tuesday, the University of Missouri’s School of Journalism named the first director of its new Jonathan Murray Documentary Journalism Center. He is Stacey Woelfel, an associate professor and news director at KOMU-TV in Columbia, Mo., for the last 24 years.

Four storytellers with strong ties to the Roxbury section of Boston spoke at the Dudley Branch of the Boston Public Library as part of a community forum Saturday entitled "Tell Our Story," co-sponsored by Fellowes Athenaeum Fund of the Boston Public Library, Clennon L. King reported Tuesday for the Boston Globe. "The event was also co-sponsored by the Boston chapter of the National Association of Black Journalists, which holds its national convention in Boston this summer. ‘Part of our job is making sure that the stories of Roxbury, like the ones that are going to be told here today, are told when the (3,000) journalists are here,’ " said Zuri Berry of the Boston Association of Black Journalists.

"A News & Observer story last week reported on the teetering financial situation facing Saint Augustine’s University and other black schools, and right on cue, the biggest party of the year — the CIAA basketball tournament — begins this week," columnist Barry Saunders wrote Monday for the N&O. "Let’s throw a party, indeed. The only problem is the proceeds from the weeklong wang dang doodle being held in Charlotte aren’t being used to help save St. Aug’s or any other struggling school: That cash is going to the city of Charlotte and Queen City restaurants, hotels, clothing stores and jewelers. . . ."

The UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism is inviting professional print, broadcast, and online journalists to apply to its fourth New York Times Institute on Immigration Reporting. "The 20 applicants selected as New York Times Fellows will learn about the new dynamics of America’s immigration debate and the country’s changing demographics. The intensive four-day training is designed for reporters and editors who have some background on immigration and seek to enhance their knowledge and skills. . . "

The International Press Institute Monday urged Sierra Leone’s government "to drop all seditious libel charges against the editor and publisher of a Freetown newspaper. "Independent Observer publisher Jonathan Leigh and chief editor Bai Bai Sesay were arrested on Oct. 18, 2013 and are due to return to court on Wednesday for publishing a commentary outlining apparent frictions between President Ernest Bai Koroma and his deputy, Samuel Sam-Sumana. . . ." the institute said.

Follow Richard Prince on Twitter.

Facebook users: "Like" "Richard Prince’s Journal-isms" on Facebook.

Journal-isms is published on the site of the Maynard Institute for Journalism Education ( Reprinted on The Root by permission.