By Tim Baffoe-
(CBS) This just in: I’m not African American. I’ll give you a moment to gather yourself and recalibrate.
I know nothing about the black experience outside of what distant windows novels, film and music have provided me. And despite having black friends, I can’t say with actual empathy that “I feel you.” No white person can.
Therefore, it’s not my place to regulate the black experience, the black condition. The National Football League, though, feels it can. It seems quite likely that there will be a new league rule requiring referees to penalize a player and his team 15 yards if that player is heard using the N-word during game play. Maybe on a mere superficial level this seems like a good idea — “Hey, get the big angry men to stop with the bad words, or at least just one word that makes some very uncomfortable” — but it’s absurd in various ways.
As Michael Wilbon put it, “You’re going to have a league with no black owners and a white commissioner — middle-aged and advanced-aged white men — say to black players, mostly — because that’s what we’re talking about — you can’t use the N-word on the field of play, or we’re going to penalize you.”
The N-word is a lot of things. In some ways just letters put together to make a noun, in others the most vile tool of oppression in this country’s history, and then many shades of black in between. But it is a distinctively black thing, concept, term, epithet, term of affection, weapon taken and turned into love. It’s not mine, and I don’t get to tell any product of a racist system, society and culture — and you are a willfully ignorant person if you believe the United States of America is not a very racist environment — how he or she gets to define or use a word that encapsulates the hundreds of years of that system, society and culture.
The NFL, always at the forefront of perceived progressiveness, is going to buy the world a Coke with this one. It’s dumb, and I feel bad for those like Greg Howard who have to look at this situation, shake their heads and write us a fantastic sociology lesson that we keep buttheading our way into. And Myles Brown having to be very blunt on Twitter because being extra polite about this stuff just doesn’t work anymore.
And Brown hinted at it without expounding (the hamstring of a 140-character limit, I know), but make no mistake. The likelihood of the NFL regulating one piece of racism boils down to money, as all things NFL do.
In one respect, this is about perceived good PR, which generates money or at least prevents the loss of it. The league wants to look like it’s helping rid the workplace of an awful word in light of Riley Cooper’s actions (fined an undisclosed amount for being recorded using the N-word while yelling at a black security guard) and Richie Incognito’s racist text messages. Nice that the league is so actively retroactive on this stuff. Also, it’s certainly a nice comfort to some non-black people to know that scary black men don’t get exclusive rights to the word on the football field anymore.
But more so this is all about the green because of the astounding lack of action on “red.” The NFL has the gall to put it out there that it’s taking a stand on one racial slur while profiting off of the Washington team name and making little to no effort to remove that slur because of the revenue it generates.
By continuing to use Washington name and logo, the league puts profit ahead of decency (which I guess we already knew with its handling of player health issues), all the while now masking its greed by probably introducing this fustercluck of an N-word rule for players who I’m sure the refs are overjoyed about having to enforce.
As Simon Moya-Smith, you know, one of those Indians who doesn’t care about the team name, writes: “Why is it bad to demean a player of African descent, but the pejorative … is still just fine for use as the name of the Washington football team? Makes no sense. As a Native American, a citizen of the Oglala Lakota Nation and someone who participates in the Native American community and doesn’t just claim to be Native American because I have a picture somewhere of a great-grandma who had high cheekbones, I wonder: Hey NFL, why aren’t you just as pissed about the R-word?”
Why? Because the NFL is a corporation, and for a massive business it’s not about black or white or dignity or suffering or breast cancer or childhood obesity.
It’s about the green.