The question in my email was simple and direct. It was 17 words that occupied my thoughts for most of the day:
Jay, what are your thoughts on the NFL's consideration to start flagging players who use the N-word?
There are few words that carry the range of possibilities and emotional impact.
But the layers of this issue are far greater than just the intolerance that resonates with the N-word. (Side note: You really have hit a high-water mark of offensive when you get the letter-word combo working. N-Word. F-Word. A-Rod. You get the idea.)
The layers of this decision reach beyond whether the term is offensive, and I am a 40-something white dude from the South and have little credibility on what offends black people in particular or others in general. But the racial discourse is not about one particular group or skipping over any part of our society, and the debate of the offensiveness of this word must come up among all groups, since the NFL reportedly is most concerned with the term's use between black players.
And if the NFL is asking its referees to start policing manners and trash talk, what other terms are offensive? Homophobic slurs. Foreign slurs. Geographical slurs. Where do you draw the line? Include them all? Exclude them all? Is the league going to be an equal-opportunity protector of every group, a politically correct correction officer for all of politics? Maybe it should be. Maybe not.
Also, it's a touch puzzling how the NFL can rule that one offensive term, like the N-word, which in my view is the nuclear bomb of slurs, is worth a 15-yard penalty, yet the league stands staunchly behind the Washington Redskins' decision to keep their nickname.
If you are looking to protect the feelings and the rights of one group in an effort to find a more understanding workplace, how can one slur be a 15-yard penalty and the other be roll call at the NFL owners meeting?
The obviously hard part about policing offensive terms, of course, is that you are forcing a third party to decide what is offensive to someone else. We know people, rightly or wrongly, that use the N-word as a term of endearment. The NFL says Washington's mascot is a term of respect. OK, so which is a penalty and which is praise?
In truth, here's a thought that this social commentary is just the latest effort of NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, who is the master of misdirection, the best rope-a-doper since Ali hung up his gloves.
Follow Goodell's pattern: A potential 10-figure lawsuit about player safety gets restarted, so the NFL debates whether to do away with PATs. The NFL's public rep and its ugly locker-room culture is threatened by Richie Incognito's stupidity and Goodell trots out "Let's ban the N-word."
Is that far-fetched? Maybe. But know this: At the request of the Rooney family that owns the Pittsburgh franchise, the Steelers have for years banned the use of the N-word. Did they do it for headlines or notoriety? Nope, they did it for a better organization and because it is the right thing to do.
But the NFL is trying to control the message and bounces from meaningless rule changes to haphazard social indignation all under the blanket of workplace harmony. To caption this with the universal umbrella that the NFL is a workplace and should have the same rules and outlines as my job or your job or wherever your uncle Joe works is ludicrous.
The culture of the locker room, the nature of the job, the essence of what they do are totally different, and their realm understandably also is completely different.
If you are Johnny Grocery Stacker and picked a fight at work, you'd be gone by the end of lunch. if you are Johnny Linebacker and picked a fight in an NFL practice, you'd get a drill off before getting back into the mix. It's apples and Orange Bowls.
In a perfect world, we'd do away with the N-word because it is a hate term that harkens back to a time of social and governmental injustice. We'd be like the Rooneys and do away with it because that's the right thing to do every day of the week.
But the playing field on Sundays seems to be a strange -- and very self-servingly public -- place for the NFL to start that cultural revolution.