NFL to Institute 15-Yard Penalty for Using the N-Word

Can the league really expect to officiate the language its players use?

Riley Cooper

Riley Cooper. Photo | Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

The NFL is about to venture down a rabbit hole of political correctness that is lined with hypocrisy. The league is seriously considering forcing its referees to not only officiate the play on the field, but the language too.

Call it the Riley Cooper rule.


The NFL is expected to institute a new rule that would penalize players for using the N-word on the field. The first time an official hears a player using the word, his team will be hit with a 15-yard penalty. What’s worse is that the player will be called out for the offense on national TV. If a player gets caught using the word a second time, he will be ejected from the game.

Eagles wide receiver Riley Cooper made national news last July when he was caught on camera threatening an African-American security guard at Lincoln Financial Field after a Kenny Chesney concert. “I will jump the fence and fight every n---- in here, bro,” Cooper was caught saying.

A common defense of Cooper dealt with the alleged hypocrisy that black players use the word more than whites. “If you want to condemn Riley Cooper, you need to condemn everyone who uses the word,” was a common argument on sports talk radio. “If the word is banned for white players it should be banned for everyone.”

Apparently the NFL was listening.

The Fritz Pollard Association, named after the NFL’s first African American coach, is lobbying for the new rule. It does not differentiate between black and white and does not allow for context. The word is not allowed for anyone on the field, not matter how they use it.

John Wooten, the chairman of Fritz Pollard, expects the rule to be passed by the NFL Competition Committee at a meeting next month. Wooten told CBSSports.com, “I will be totally shocked if the committee does not support what we are trying to do.”

You might expect a rule that eliminates an ugly racial slur from the field of play to be praised by leaders in African American sports community. You would be wrong. There is a passionate split on the issue.

Ryan Clark, who spent 12 seasons in the NFL as a safety for the Pittsburgh Steelers, admitted to Bob Ley on ESPN’s Outside the Lines, “it’s not going to be white players using it towards black players.” Clark said, “Most of the times you hear it, it’s a black player using the word.”

Rasheda Ali, daughter of the legendary Muhammed Ali, told MSNBC host Joy Reid, “I’m an advocate for you can use it if you’re black, but it’s not appropriate if you’re white.” Ali thought the NFL rule unfairly targets black players who use the word in place of “pal or buddy.”

ESPN host Michael Wilbon, who admits using the N-word “all day, every day, my whole life,” doesn’t believe NFL white owners have a right to tell black players how they can talk on the field. Wilbon told Ley, “You [white owners] don’t get a vote on this one.”

Fellow African American ESPN commentator Jason Whitlock is all for the rule. On the same panel, Whitlock said the word is “embraced by the very people it was used to destroy and that’s what’s sad and I’m glad the NFL is taking this stand.”

Former New York Giants linebacker Carl Banks agrees. He told the New York Daily News, “If the word disappeared from the world’s vernacular, I wouldn’t miss it one bit.”

And that really is the only answer, if you are going to take the word of the field of play, it must be for all players. There can’t be separate rules for white players and black players, that’s the kind of thinking that got us into this mess in the first place.

But what about other slurs? Some NFL team is about to draft Michael Sams, who will become pro football’s first openly gay player.

Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome, who is on the competition committee, says there has already been a discussion about including other slurs in the rule, including homophobic slurs.

What about slurs against Native Americans? Is the league really going to tell players on a team called the “Redskins” that they will be penalized for using racial slurs?

It would seem the hypocrisy and the offensive language isn’t limited to the field of play.

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  • dgraham

    I think this is going in the right direction……There are laws prohibiting the use of discriminatory language in the workplace. The field is their workplace and should be held to the same standards. May be hard to convince the owners…..there will be A LOT of penalties in the upcoming season!

  • OC

    I am BLACK, OK? What these men are doing is verbally trying to lap up to the white man. Kiss their ass. BECOME them. It is their response to extreme FEAR.