The NFL is considering a proposal that would make the use of the n-word a 15-yard penalty if uttered on the field of play. And Richard Sherman, who's no stranger to matters of speech in the NFL, has called the idea "atrocious."
The NFL's competition committee meets later this week to discuss the idea of penalizing players for speech. SI's Peter King is reporting that any sort of penalty is "unlikely," though he notes that there could be a phased-in approach: players would be warned this year and penalized in later years.
Seattle cornerback Richard Sherman, who forced his way into the national consciousness with his definitive statement of pride at the end of the NFC championship game, is equally demonstrative, if at somewhat lower volume, when it comes to the idea of regulating the use of the word.
“It’s an atrocious idea,” he told King. “It’s almost racist, to me. It’s weird they’re targeting one specific word. Why wouldn’t all curse words be banned then?”
Sherman made sure to split the difference between the word ending in "-er" and the one ending in "-a," adding that he hears some version of the word on pretty much every series.
It's also worth noting that zeroing in on the n-word won't solve many problems. As Sherman himself contended, the word "thug" is starting to take on new connotations. “The only reason [the word 'thug'] bothers me is because it seems like it’s the accepted way of calling somebody the n-word nowadays,” Sherman said during a pre-Super Bowl media conference. “It’s like everyone else said the n-word, and then they say thug and that’s fine."
Here's NBC Sports' SportsDash considering the angle:
Sherman isn't alone in the idea that focusing on one word seems to miss the point. "Not to say that the use of the word should be out there, but it is what it is," the Vikings' Adrian Peterson said last fall. "It's men. There's no other [place], not even basketball where there's so many guys in one space. Things like that happen. People say crazier things than just the n-word."
The question of enforcement is a vexing one; how, for instance, would one referee determine who used the word in the course of a pileup? Does the same rule apply to music played in a locker room? How about off-the-field use? There are many thorny issues to navigate with this proposal, and Sherman is one of many who is pointing out how tricky it could be.