Taking issue with Richard Sherman

Posted: March 06, 2014

FOR A GUY who graduated with honors from Stanford University, Seattle Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman can sure make himself appear foolish at times.

The other day, Sherman responded negatively to the idea that the NFL's competition committee is going to discuss implementing a 15-yard penalty for players who use racial slurs on the field.

"It's an atrocious idea," Sherman told the website themmqb.com. "It's almost racist to me. It's weird they're targeting one specific word."

Actually, the competition committee is not targeting "one specific word."

It is targeting one specific type of word - the racial slur.

It is only the people looking at this through a myopic view who have determined that the term "racial slur" only applies to the "N-Word."

Perhaps I am wrong, but if the NFL is going to implement this penalty, the powers that be are smart enough to realize that it must apply to racial slurs beyond just those directed at African-Americans.

While it is true that the "N-word" generates the most vitriolic public reaction, it is, in concept, no worse than any other slur specifically designed to demean and humiliate any specific group.

Humans are a creative species. We've developed slurs for every race, religion, gender, sexuality and ethnic group.

Expressing hatred for those who are different than us has been mastered over the eons.

"It's in the locker room and on the field at all times," Sherman continued. "I hear it almost every series out there on the field."

So what? That doesn't make it right.

There was a time in America when the "N-word" was a common part of the language without any of the broad denunciation it now receives.

The only ones offended were the ones it was directed at.

Fortunately, our society has evolved.

So I applaud the NFL for considering an action that would drag it into the 21st century - regardless of the players' opinion.

"It's a common word in so many players' everyday lives," Tennessee Titans cornerback Jason McCourty told the same website. "Among African-American players and people, it's used among friends all the time.

"It seems like a bit much for the NFL to try to get rid of it."

No, it is not. An NFL playing field is not a player's home or living room or backyard. It is a work environment.

No matter how violent and emotional the job may be, no matter that it is at its core still a game, playing in the NFL is a job.

Sherman, McCourty and all the players are employees who are paid by the teams in the league. It's as much a place of employment as the one that you and I go to every day.

As an employer, the NFL has an obligation to establish a work place that is free of racial slurs that by their nature create an unnecessarily hostile environment.

What players want to call each other outside that work environment isn't something the NFL can control.

If Sherman and others want to abide by some ignorant notion in the African-American community that it is OK to demean ourselves by referring to each other in an atrocious manner, that is their choice.

But as long as they are picking up a check from their teams, the NFL has the right to discipline the use of offensive language that would not be tolerated in virtually any other place of employment.

Allowing the use of racial slurs casts the NFL in a bad light, and as such, it is in the best interest of the business to eliminate that kind of language.

Fines have not worked. Suspensions have not worked. Sensitivity training has not worked.

A 15-yard unsportsmanlike-conduct penalty will work. It has always worked when the NFL wanted to change an old way of doing things that it no longer wanted in the game - clothesline tackles, spearing, piling on, late hits, horse-collar tackles.

Players moaned each time some kind of behavior-altering rule was made, and ultimately as the penalties added up, the behavior was modified.

The same thing will happen if this rule is implemented.

Coaches, teammates, management and fans aren't going to want to hear about some player's need to defend their right to free speech when penalties hurt a team's chances of winning.

Freedom of speech does not mean that an individual is necessarily free from the consequence of that speech.

Sherman, McCourty and other players are free to say whatever racial slurs they want, but when they are on the job, the NFL has the right to make a rule that will penalize them for doing so.

Email: smallwj@phillynews.com

Columns: ph.ly/Smallwood

Blog: ph.ly/DNL

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