Ed Pratt: Making an insult into a penalty, or nothing at all

It was so weird earlier this week when I saw the announcement crawl across the bottom of my television screen: The NFL is considering penalizing players for using the N-word.

What? Is the NFL serious? This was so stunning and so off the grid that I could not fathom what was happening.

With about 70 percent of the NFL being African American, I was stunned the league had to make a rule to police this matter. Don’t those players know better? Are their vocabularies that limited?

Then, my next thought was: Wait, the NFL has the Washington “Redskins.” Do native Americans cringe when that is announced? And, is there a connection to this being brought up during Black History Month?

Back to the N-word.

The use of the N-word has come a long way. About 30 years ago African Americans would become angry when someone used that word against them.

It was the fave attack word at lynchings, when public schools were being integrated, and just about anywhere else it could be used to demean an African American.

Generations of African Americans have hated the word.

I remember as a college student in the mid-1970s, working part time for this newspaper covering a high school football game. An African-American running back tore through the line of a predominantly white team. As he was a steamrolling would-be tacklers on his way to yet another touchdown, a group of young white men seated just below the press box screamed, “Get that N-word!”

The poor woman in the press box with me apologized for them when she saw the startled look on my face.

Now, the African-American hip-hop generation, which, for the most part, did not have to deal with much of the blatant racism of my generation, uses the N-word now like “my man” and “my friend.” There is even “My Nigga.” Notice the “er” has been replaced with an “a” so everything is cool.

Popular rappers and comics pour the word out now like coffee. Today’s young have heard it over and over — from Snoop Dogg, to Jay-Z, to Lil Wayne and “The Boondocks” — and are desensitized.

Many of the 20-somethings and maybe those in their early 30s among African Americans see the NFL’s whole idea as a waste of time. I saw a news clip the other night of high school students, of several ethnicities, saying they own the word now and it really means nothing.

Think about it. The football field is the most visible workplace of the NFL, no different than my workplace or yours.

So, if folks walked into my workplace, or your workplace, and started screaming the N-word, even with the “a” on the end, my guess is there would be a lot of offended or uncomfortable people.

Some of the N-word repeaters probably would face disciplinary action or a reaction from some that would not have a favorable outcome.

So, why shouldn’t a football field be the same? There are many football players, both black and white, who are offended by the repeated use of the word.

Sure, enforcing this type of penalty will be difficult. Sometimes, great things are hard to do.

My question is: How are they going to designate to the fans and the TV audience that the player used the N-word? Will it just be called unsportsmanlike conduct, and they will move on? Or will it be called, “Improper language. Number 74.” Now, being singled out for this penalty will put a player in a new light. It will be embarrassing; and it should be.

Will there be different repercussions from fans and other players if the penalized player is white?

It will be strange when the offending player comes to the sideline and the coach asks why was he penalized, and the player will say, “because I called Robert Griffin III the N-word.”

If this rule actually comes into play, sometime soon, with more sensitive sound equipment at the games, you may hear more than Peyton Manning screaming, “Omaha-Omaha.” I wonder what the response will be?

Edward Pratt, a former Advocate editor, is assistant to the chancellor for media relations at Southern University. His email address is epratt1972@yahoo.com.