The NFL–the league with the team name that’s arguably a racial slur–is considering penalizing a penalty for players who use a racial and homophobic slurs on the field. When asked about whether he would support a similar step in the NBA, Miami Heat center Chris Bosh upped the ante, saying that he would ban all slurs on the court.
Yes, people should be decent to each other. And yes, there are certain words that are inappropriate in a workplace context. And though the football field or the basketball court are fields of play, they are also a workplace.
But let’s talk about banning all slurs.
- It’s a first-amendment issue. No, it is specifically not a first-amendment issue. Congress can make no law abridging the freedom of speech. But the NFL is not Congress. Neither is the NBA. To that point, neither are WordPress, your favorite television network, YouTube, or any publisher (book, newspaper, or magazine). If the NFL wants to penalize or ban a player for saying specific words on the field of play, they are completely entitled to do so.
- Of course, all slurs should be banned. There is no reason for people to act that way to each other, regardless of context. The NFL and NBA, like all other insular groups, have their own culture. Part of that culture includes intimidation and gaining a mental edge. It has since the early days of competitive sports. Much of it is largely meaningless. When people are bound together in an intense situation, the language isn’t necessarily what you would use with your grandmother. Eliminating all words that could possibly be considered a slur wouldn’t improve a workplace. It would most likely break down the relationships in which people can call each other names they wouldn’t use in front of their grandmothers. Some of the best workplaces I’ve worked in included some of the coarsest language.
- But this isn’t like calling someone an idiot. These words have loaded histories. Offense is subjective. Although large segments of society are offended by most racial or homophobic slurs, people are also offended by words like bitch, idiot, or fatso. A growing chorus is offended by the name of the nation’s capital NFL team. Some are offended by Indians, Braves, and Chiefs. At what point do we draw the line between using the n-word and calling someone a fatso, or a Papist? Commissioner Roger Goodell seems to be setting the bar quite low, saying about the Redskins that if anyone is offended by a name, a conversation should ensue.
- For crying out loud, stop with the political correctness and just play the game. Yeah, there’s that. But there’s also an increasingly loud plurality of people who oppose anything that offends them. Political correctness doesn’t just come from thin-skinned liberals. Try saying Happy Holidays at Christmas sometime. If Paula Deen and Don Imus are going to lose their jobs for making insensitive statements, should it be a surprise when the NFL wants to penalize its players?
I’m a writer. Part of that means to deal with difficult issues. Sometimes that means character use bad words. I know there are people who would be offended by reading my work. Being offended is increasingly powerful, and society seems to be increasingly deciding that offending something isn’t acceptable. That concerns me.
In a free society, just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should.
But in my estimate, just because you shouldn’t do something means you should be prevented from doing it.