The Fritz Pollard Alliance has been very important in creating many opportunities for African Americans and other minorities to become NFL head coaches and general managers over the past decade. Its mission is to “promote diversity and equality of job opportunity in the coaching, front office, and coaching staffs of National Football League teams”. It now appears that the Fritz Pollard Alliance is taking on one of its biggest challenges to date. Earlier this week, the Fritz Pollard Alliance urged NFL players to stop using the N-word after the much publicized uses of the word involving players from the NFL’s Miami Dolphins and Washington football teams. The Alliance is also asking the NFL to eject players and potentially fine them for using the racial slur on the field. Given the racial dynamics of professional and collegiate sports, it is not surprising that the use of arguably the most controversial and polarizing word ever would become public dialogue in “the sports world”.
Before the start of the 2013 NFL season, Philadelphia Eagles wide receiver Riley Cooper gained widespread attention for his use of the N-word during an altercation at a music concert. The fact that Cooper, a white person, was referring to a black person during the issue made the scrutiny that he faced understandable for rational people. But the recent use of the N-word on Twitter by Los Angeles Clipper and NBA player Matt Barnes, who is multiracial, reawakened the discussion about use of the word within the black community. The use of the N-word has a history that cannot be detailed in an educated and thorough manner through a brief article. Within the black community, there is no consensus about whether the word should be used as a term of endearment about black friends and family members. It is not even clear what percentage of the black community uses the word but there are a few things that should be made clear about its usage.
The argument for any person using the N-word regardless of their race often mentions its usage by black people in rap music and some black movies. While it is certainly possible to find uses of the word in black popular culture and media, it is easy to find sources in which the word isn’t used such as most R&B music and virtually all gospel music. It is also important to remember that the use of a slur among some black people as a term of endearment is not unusual among minority groups. There are other minority groups including women and homosexuals in which some use a slur amongst themselves as terms of endearment. It is similar to the theory that family members can say words to other members which may sound insulting but that those outside the family should not attempt. Another key point to remember in this discussion of the N-word is that it is completely unknown how many black people in America use the word regularly. It could be that over half of black people use the word or that percentage could be too high, but determining how often the word is used among the entire black community based on listening to some rap music is obviously and ridiculously flawed.
Words are truly important. The NFL knows this based on the attention to its Washington D.C. area NFL team. Employers like the NFL and NBA must have the ability to restrict public use of some language by its employees but the use of the N-word is a truly difficult challenge to regulate on the field. The Fritz Pollard Alliance is led by Black men who understand the use of the word and have shown their great intentions for Black athletes and people within sports. However, restricting the use of the N-word on the field of play brings up the argument about the type of language that can be used on the football field where some of the most crude and vulgar language takes place every Sunday. As this issue and the Jonathan Martin allegations show, language in sports may never be the same again. It depends on the person whether that is a good or bad thing.