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NFL may impose 15-yard penalties for racial slurs on the field

Titans Texans Football

A penalty flag during the second quarter of an NFL Football game between the Tennessee Titans and Houston Texans, Sunday, Sept. 30, 2012, in Houston. (AP Photo/Dave Einsel)


The NFL may implement a new rule this offseason calling for 15-yard penalties for any players who use racial slurs on the field.

John Wooten, head of the Fritz Pollard Alliance, told CBS Sports that he expects the league to make it an automatic 15-yard penalty if a player uses the N-word on the field, and an automatic ejection for a player who does it twice.

“I will be totally shocked if the competition committee does not uphold us on what we’re trying to do,” Wooten said. “We want this word to be policed from the parking lot to the equipment room to the locker room. Secretaries, PR people, whoever, we want it eliminated completely and want it policed everywhere.”

Wooten’s comments were strictly about the N-word, but if the NFL is going to implement this rule, other racial slurs would presumably be included as well, along with slurs that are homophobic, sexist or religious in nature.

However, the NFL may find such a rule tougher for its officials to implement than it sounds. Would the NFL provide every player, coach and official with a list of words that can’t be used? And who would determine which words make the list? Some slurs may be considered offensive in some contexts but not in others. Members of a racial or ethnic groups sometimes use slurs among themselves, with no offense intended or taken. If one black player uses the N-word toward another black player, and a white official hears it and throws a penalty flag, that may open a can of worms the NFL would rather avoid.

And, of course, not everyone agrees on what constitutes a racial slur. Some people consider “Redskins” a racial slur. If the NFL is so concerned about policing use of offensive words, why is one of its teams using a name that many people find offensive?

Despite all the potential problems with the rule, it wouldn’t be surprising to see the NFL implement it. The investigation into the bullying in the Dolphins’ locker room, which revealed that racial slurs were frequently used by players, made the NFL look bad. Cracking down on racial slurs could be an opportunity for the NFL to make a positive stand. Or it could turn out to be a big mess.