NFL Right To Blow Whistle On Vile Word

I am standing on the field of the surreal.

I am waiting to see how many brothers will not line up alongside Richard Sherman in a goal line defense of black NFL players' right to call their brothers — niggas.

Sherman is the cornerback of the Super Bowl champion Seattle Seahawks. He is reportedly unhappy about the NFL's proposed rule — to be discussed by the owners later this month — to implement a 15-yard penalty for any player using the n-word.

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Sherman says it's racist because it targets black players, whom he acknowledges are the ones using the word in a league that the 2013 Racial and Gender Report Card cited as 66 percent black.

Like so many other young blacks in America, he says the word "nigga" is different from "nigger" because we took the word and made it our own.

To which I say to him, and all others: Visit photo No. 28 of the website Without Sanctuary.

Michael Wilbon of ESPN, who acknowledges using the word every day all day, also objects to the NFL's proposed rule, saying white owners telling black players to stop calling each other nigga is, well, a problem.

Forgive me as I stand on the field of the surreal, but right is right, regardless of color.

But you have to buy-in that reducing, if not eliminating the n-word, is the right thing. For many blacks who have heard and said this word all their lives, taking it away is like taking a cigarette from a smoker. In interviews for my The n-Word Project, a number of blacks, particularly younger blacks, have said using the n-word is a habit.

I joked with some about what it would take to make them quit.

It would take others around them not using it, said one Southern Connecticut State University student, who pledged to not say the word for two months. (I will check back to see how he did).

The n-Word project interviews also revealed there are a number of blacks, not all of them older, who have problems with the use of the word. They say the word is disrespectful of oneself and others. There are other words to express empowerment — like brother.

A point can be made that an NFL ban of the n-word and not other profane words is discriminatory and violates the First Amendment. To that, I would say yes, slap on 15 yards for all profane words. Yes, there is a right to freedom of expression. But having the right to be disrespectful or profane does not mean one must be disrespectful and profane. And most agree the word is the most hateful and vile word in English.

So, I am standing on the field of the surreal. There may come the time when I am asked by my brothers whose side I am on. And I will reply: You call each other niggas and you ask me whose side I am on?

It's the side of those who have felt the sting and lash and rope and stones and bullets and bombs and jeers and shouts and gas and fire and rivers and the pecking of birds and buzzing of insects on their remains.

We are the older generation of blacks who were called nigger and nigga and nigguh — and it all meant the same. The younger blacks never had to experience that. Your intro to the word was through the music. We hear a different tune. We feel a different beat.

But you keep hanging onto the notion that the word nigga means something different that you created. So, let me try this again.

Picture No. 28 of the website Without Sanctuary,, shows a framed picture of an Aug. 7, 1930, lynching in Marion, Ind., with a lock of hair from one of the black victims.

A crowd of white men is pointing at the two black men hanging from a tree. There's an inscription. It says: "Bo pointn to his niga."

Shall we forgive them in their glee — they left out one g.

Frank Harris III of Hamden is a professor of journalism at Southern Connecticut State University in New Haven. His email address is Follow him on Twitter at fh3franktalk.

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