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Defending N-Word Use in NFL Puts Writers in Awkward Posture

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Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Newsrooms Don't Allow Words for Which Athletes Get a Pass

In Anti-LBGT Climate, Uganda Paper Names "200 Top" Gays

Hong Kong Editor Slashed by Attacker With Meat Cleaver

FCC Member Denies Attempt to Chill Journalists' Speech

NAHJ President Urges Protection of Mexican Journalists

Latino Leader Faults Foreign Owners of El Diario

"16 Women Journalists to Watch in the Middle East"

"12 Years a Slave" Author's Kin Saw Ending on His 3rd Try

Short Takes

Common, the recording artist and anchor, examines the N-word on ESPN's "Outside The Lines Special Report: The N-word" Monday. (video)

Newsrooms Don't Allow Words for Which Athletes Get a Pass

The NFL is considering penalizing players 15 yards if they use the N-word on the field, leaving sportswriters and columnists who question such a penalty in an ironic position: They would be sanctioning language that they are not be permitted to use in their own workplaces.

Tim Stephens"I can only speak for my experiences but I have never worked in a newsroom or anywhere else where use of the n-word, even in a casual manner, would be acceptable," Tim Stephens, president of the Associated Press Sports Editors, told Journal-isms by email on Wednesday.

"The locker room has typically seemed to have its own code, but the Martin case has raised the question as to whether it should. It also raises excellent questions as to whether conduct that clearly would not be tolerated in a traditional work setting should be acceptable in the work environment of the athlete."

Stephens is deputy managing editor of His reference is to the case of Miami Dolphins tackle Jonathan Martin, who "walked away from the Dolphins last season after accusing teammate Richie Incognito of bullying and harassing him, in the words of Anwar S. Richardson, writing Tuesday for Yahoo Sports. "His accusations launched an NFL investigation, plus resulted in Incognito’s suspension. The investigation recently concluded, and the Ted Wells report backed up Martin's claims of verbal and physical abuse," Richardson wrote.

The Dolphins expressed interest in having Martin return to the team, Jason La Canfora reported Tuesday for, but Martin's aents rebuffed them.

The Dolphins' locker-room climate included use of the N-word by Incognito, who is white. The NFL asked Wells, co-chair of the Litigation Department at the New York law firm of Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison LLP, to investigate Martin's allegations of an unsatisfactory work environment. Wells' report was released Feb. 14.

" 'People call me a (n-word) to my face,' Martin told his father in a text. 'Happened 2 days ago. And I laughed it off. Because I am too nice of a person. They say terrible things about my sister. I don't do anything. I suppose it's white private school conditioning, turning the other cheek," the report quoted Martin as writing.

Despite the report's unflattering portrait of the locker room, the proposed penalty for using the N-word is meeting resistance from some African American commentators.

"While I understand the need to look at language on and off the field because these players are seen as role models, I'm not sure this is something that can be policed effectively on the field," James E. Causey wrote in the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel. Causey also wrote, 'Bottom line: The use of the N-word and the emotion wrapped around it varies from person to person and from situation to situation. I know the history of the word, but I can tell you that not a day goes by when I don't hear it used or referenced. . . ."

At and the Times-Picayune in New Orleans, a headline writer for columnist Jarvis DeBerry framed the issue as one of free speech: "With N-word ban, NFL proposes to police language."

Michael Wilbon, who has said he grew up in a household where his father addressed him with the N-word, said Monday on ESPN's "Pardon the Interruption,"  "So you’re gonna 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 gonna penalize you.'

"I've got a massive problem with that. I don't think it's gonna happen. I know there are black men of the same age — John Wooten being one of them — who say 'no, you've got to take this word out of the workplace.' I understand that. But I don’t want it enforced like this."

Wilbon also appeared on "Outside The Lines Special Report: The N-word," an ESPN special that aired Monday night. 

Earl Ofari Hutchinson, a syndicated columnist whose work appears on HuffPost BlackVoices, agreed that black players would bear the brunt of punishment. "And they should for the very reason that several NFL players, when asked about it, have declared the proposed ban DOA with the shrug and a quip, 'Hey, it's part of the culture, ' " Hutchinson wrote.

"Culture? That's the problem. In times past, a parade of black comedians and rappers had virtually canonized the word. Mercifully, many of them got the message that it's not hip, cool, funny and there's absolutely no shock value in it anymore, and have purged it from their act or toned down on using it. But that doesn't seem to include many black [ballplayers] who still cling to the lame rationales that the more a black person uses the word the less offensive it becomes. Or, it's a term of endearment. Or, there's no offense to it because everyone uses it."

Marc J. SpearsJournal-isms asked Marc J. Spears, an NBA writer for Yahoo Sports who chairs the Sports Task Force of the National Association of Black Journalists, whether there are newsrooms where it would be all right for sports reporters to use the N-word among each other, and if there was a difference between the playing field and the newsroom in that regard.

"Zero," Spears replied by email.

"The difference between the NFL and NBA and the newsroom is the first two are predominantly black while the latter is predominately white. It's complicated. But ultimately you are at work so it should be respected as such regardless to an individual's feeling about the word."

A predecessor as Sports Task Force chair, Gregory H. Lee Jr., executive sports editor at the SunSentinel in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., said much the same.

"A newsroom is a professional environment. I would find it inappropriate Gregory Lee articulate any type of slur in the newsroom. It is something that I don't remember hearing in my 20 years in newsrooms," Lee, who is also immediate past president of NABJ, said by email. "The NFL has a different climate as people have read in the Ted Wells Report."

But as Jason Reid wrote in the Washington Post, "For NFL players, the field is their office. There are laws prohibiting the use of discriminatory language in the workplace. In no other business are employees legally empowered to harass co-workers based on their race, ethnicity, religious preference or sexual orientation. Why should the working environment in the NFL be any different? It’s as simple as that, though I realize use of the N-word is complex."

Writing for, Patrick Rishe, an economics professor and the founder/director of Sportsimpacts, said the issue is also about economics.

"Though some players, journalists, and others would argue that whites shouldn't dictate how black players speak to each other, they miss the point that these games are not played in a vacuum," Rishe wrote. "They are for public consumption, and a large percentage of the public doesn’t want to hear the word used in any context under any circumstance.

"With mostly white fans in the stands and a mostly white audience watching/hearing live sound on telecasts (as the Scarborough data suggests), coupled with a sizable portion of the black population (especially those that want nothing to do with that word), the NFL wants to again protect the message it sends about what is acceptable behavior.

"People that run the NFL, along with its media partners who between 2014 and 2021 will supply the league with average media revenues of $4.95 billion annually, have the right to dictate how their game is perceived and presented. Though a privately run organization, the NFL has a very public profile. As such, they have the right to do what they feel is necessary to protect The Shield. . . ."

On the issue of whether such a rule is enforceable, it might be helpful to recall a 2007 incident among journalists, the last time such an issue came up in this column.

Ken Bedford, a cameraman at WLS-TV, the ABC owned-and-operated station in Chicago, was given five days' suspension without pay when he used the word while jostling with another photographer for a shot. He told Journal-isms then that he wanted it understood that his use of the word was not racial, but an expression of "male bravado" in an extremely competitive situation and that black people use the word in "dual ways."

But, Bedford added, "I'm being punished by my station because they interpret it as a racial epithet. It should not be used because in society it is now not accepted, whether you mean it in an endearing way or in any other way. I have to take that position and put this thing behind me."

In Anti-LBGT Climate, Uganda Paper Names "200 Top" Gays

Uganda's Red Pepper (Credit: Kasha Jacqueline/Twitter)

"A Ugandan newspaper published a list Tuesday of what it called the country's '200 top' gays, outing some Ugandans and raising fears of violence against those named just a day after the president enacted a severe anti-gay law," Rodney Muhumuza reported Tuesday for the Associated Press.

"Many on the list 'are scared and they need help,' said Pepe Julian Onziema, a prominent Ugandan gay activist who was named in in the Red Pepper tabloid. 'Some want to leave the country and they are asking to be helped.'

"Meanwhile, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said Monday's signing of the bill by President Yoweri Museveni marked 'a tragic day for Uganda and for all who care about the cause of human rights.'

"He warned that Washington could cut aid to the East African nation over the new law, which punishes gay sex with up to life in prison. . . .

"U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon demanded the revision or repeal of the law, warning on Tuesday that it could fuel prejudice and harassment against gays.

"The Red Pepper ran its list of names — and some pictures — in a front-page story under the headline 'EXPOSED!' . . ."

Ugandan LGBT rights activist Kasha Jacqueline Nabagesera, who was on the list, spoke Wednesday on the Canadian Broadcasting Corp.'s "Q with Jian Ghomeshi," Kristen Hare reported for the Poynter Institute.

" 'Why are they doing this?' Ghomeshi asked. 'Why are the newspapers and other media hostile toward the gay community in Uganda?'

" 'They’re doing this because, first of all, they are using us to make sales,' Nabagesera said. 'The issue of homosexuality is a very controversial issue in the country. So everyone will definitely run to buy a newspaper … it's really just taking advantage of a marginalized community.' . . ."

On NPR's "Tell Me More" Wednesday, Ugandan gay activist Frank Mugisha told host Michel Martin, "They have said that we recruit children into homosexuality, but, you know, with the homophobia that exists in Uganda, I find it strange that actually a politician would believe this because if any person recruited one person in school, they would get arrested or they would get beaten or they would get exposed. We have the media, you know, exposing people who are known to be gay. How come they don't expose anyone who has been in school recruiting someone? . . ."

Hong Kong Editor Slashed by Attacker With Meat Cleaver

"The former editor of a Hong Kong newspaper whose abrupt dismissal in January sparked protests over press freedom is in critical condition after being hacked Wednesday by an assailant with a meat cleaver, police said," Kelvin Chan reported for the Associated Press.

"Police said a man wearing a motorcycle helmet attacked Kevin Lau in a residential neighborhood and then fled on a motorcycle driven by another man.

"Lau was hospitalized in critical condition with slashes in his back and legs, said Kwan King-pan, acting superintendent of Hong Kong Police.

"Police did not announce any motive for the attack and appealed to the public for information.

"Lau, 49, was named editor of the respected Ming Pao newspaper in 2012 but was replaced last month by a Malaysian journalist with no local experience. Lau was transferred to the parent company's electronic publishing unit. The move raised fears among journalists that the newspaper's owners were moving to curb aggressive reporting on human rights and corruption in China. . . ."

FCC Commissioner Mignon Clyburn makes a point during a dinner roundtable last we

FCC Member Denies Attempt to Chill Journalists' Speech

"FCC Commissioner and former acting chairwoman Mignon Clyburn defended the commission's Critical Information Needs study Wednesday, Feb. 26 in a speech at the Media Institute in Washington, saying she would never try to chill speech or influence journalists and that the study was an effort to gauge the market, not shape it," John Eggerton reported Wednesday for Multichannel News.

The Multi-Market Study of Critical Information Needs aimed to help the commission figure out how to lower entry barriers for minorities in broadcasting, Katy Bachman reported previously for Adweek.

"According to a text of the speech obtained by Multichannel News, Clyburn told the group that the intent of the study, which was put out for public notice last [May] when Clyburn was heading the agency, was to 'gather data and other information about whether there are any market entry barriers, preventing local communities from receiving important information.'

"Clyburn noted that the FCC had been the center of attention over that study in the past couple of weeks. That included the suggestion in some quarters that Clyburn was an administration agent of newsroom intrusion or influence in a backdoor attempt to insure news balance akin to the FCC's discredited fairness doctrine.

" 'As a person who spent 14 years running a small weekly, I would never be a part of any effort to chill speech, shape the news or influence news gatherers,' she told her audience of media execs, lawyers and others. 'I am about facilitating ownership and opportunities and making sound decisions about our most critical industries based on solid research and not rhetoric.' "

NAHJ President Urges Protection of Mexican Journalists

"It's early February, and it's raining heavily in Mexico City when the news comes out," Jasmine Garsd wrote Thursday for "Three bodies were found in Las Choapas, located in the state of Veracruz, near the Gulf of Mexico. Gruesome discoveries like these are not uncommon in Mexico, much less in Veracruz, a state torn apart by drug-related violence. But today's news still weighs heavy — one of the bodies found belonged to union leader Eduardo Guillen, and another belonged to journalist Gregorio Jimenez, who’d gone missing almost a week ago.

"Jimenez worked for newspapers Notisur and El Liberal. He'd been reporting about kidnappings, among them, Guillen's. Last week, at least five gunmen forced Jimenez out of his home and drove him away in an SUV. Officials in Veracruz have speculated that Jimenez was killed in a personal vendetta, but few believe this — journalists and activists across the country are asking for full investigation.

"Jimenez is one of more than 100 journalists who have disappeared or been killed in Mexico since 2000, according to the PEN American Center for freedom of expression. Fifteen of those have been in Veracruz. Although violence against journalists is a widespread problem in Latin America, Mexico is currently one of the most dangerous countries for reporters in the Western Hemisphere. A week after Jimenez is found, the National Association for Hispanic Journalists issues a statement condemning the violence against journalists in the country.

" 'This is enough. How much longer will local and national government leaders cross their arms and do nothing about the growing number of journalist murders?' the group’s president, Hugo Balta, asks. He exhorts presidents of both Mexico and the U.S. to do a better job of protecting journalists. . . ."

Latino Leader Faults Foreign Owners of El Diario

"With the purchase of 90 percent ownership of El Diario-La Prensa and its parent company, impreMedia, back in 2012 by the Argentine newspaper, La Nacion, the nature and future of this 100 year old Latino community institution in New York has become open to question," Angelo Falcón wrote Monday for the National Institute for Latino Policy, of which he is president.

Today, Falcón wrote, "what is unusual is the apparent takeover by a narrow set of nationalities, most with little or no real knowledge of the experience of Latinos in New York and the United States. The fact that the overwhelming majority of Latinos in this city are Puerto Rican, Dominican, Mexican, Colombian and Ecuadoran appears irrelevant to the new owners and managers of El Diario, which is troubling.

"But most disturbing is the apparent lack of outreach to these communities by the new owners and managers. Even when El Diario was bought some time ago by a Canadian owner, there was at least an effort by these non-Latinos to engage the Latino community in a dialogue about their plans for the paper, even establishing a community advisory board. What the current owners are projecting is a offensive and patronizing arrogance. . . ."

"16 Women Journalists to Watch in the Middle East"

"Female reporters in the Middle East have shown exceptional courage on the front lines of war, dodging bullets, fending off sexual harassment and lining the corridors of power to deliver the news," the Washington-based Al-Monitor reported.

"In September last year, Jill Filipovic of the Guardian created a stir with her article 'Can girls even find Syria on a map,' observing that 'The overwhelming majority of expert talking heads and op-ed writers on US intervention in Syria are male.'

"We picked up that theme and asked 16 of the top women journalists covering the Middle East for Al-Monitor and other publications — Rania Abouzeid, Asmaa al-Ghoul, Deborah Amos, Ayah Aman, Francesca Borri, Yasemin Congar, Tulin Daloglu, Hala Jaber, Zeina Khodr, Mazal Mualem, Laura Rozen, Sarah el-Sirgany, Barbara Slavin, Liz Sly, Bel Trew and Amberin Zaman — what is it like to be a female journalist in one of the most dangerous regions in the world and how gender has played a role in their reporting, if at all? . . ."

The Vienna-based International Press Institute Wednesday described Al-Monitor "an edgy news and commentary site launched in the aftermath of the Arab Spring that brands itself as 'the pulse of the Middle East.'  " The press freedom organization awarded the site this year's International Press Institute Free Media Pioneer Award.

"12 Years a Slave" Author's Kin Saw Ending on His 3rd Try

"With the Oscars just a few days away, WNYC and PRI’s 'The Takeaway' examines the real stories that have inspired some of this year's Best Picture nominees," the New York public radio station announces.

"Host John Hockenberry sits down with Clayton Adams, the great-great-great-grandson of Solomon Northup, whose memoir inspired the film '12 Years a Slave,' to discuss what the film and Northup's memoir meant to Adams and his family (audio). Adams also imagines what he might say if he were to accept the Best Picture Oscar in this poignant and touching interview."

Of his experience seeing "12 Years a Slave," Adams said, "I saw the movie three times, it took me three times just to be able to stay to the end to actually see the ending. . . ."

Short Takes

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N-Word Politics

I hope the Black NFL players ignore the NFL's attempt to censor their speech becuase it offends everyone except the Black players. I hope the Black players send a message to the NFL that they are adults and they reject  this patronizing and paternalism of the NFL.

Cross-Postings From The Root


It's crazy how the tables have turned. Those who were against censorship are now for it.

To my knowledge, no one has offered up as much as a rule-of-thumb on censorship. There is no equation we can apply across the board to either ban speech or allow individuals to self-govern. In other words, this is arbitrary.

No boundaries ... Weakening foundation! We're winging it.


Someone please tell Mr. Prince that if he wants to include all of these links he should create a separate file and provide one link on his posts to that file.


@knowledgeisking Thanks for the suggestion! Why do you recommend that?

Frank Griffin

Isn't the NFL 75% black? Blacks are going to be the ones being called on this so it is rather silly. If this is a rule they better enforce it for everyone. The use of cracker should be banned too but I guess whites are just not as sensitive as black folks. Blacks really need to stop being so fearful of the white man.


@Frank Griffin Actually, about 66% of NFL players are black, compared to 30% who are white. All racial slurs should be banned, as they are in most work places. Be nice if The Root would moderate comments on its website and ban racial slurs here, too.


What about the rap songs in the locker room? Will the PC NFL fine teams for that?


I think the whole notion of banning the n- word in general, as proposed by Jessie Jackson and others is ridiculous, however; the NFL is certainly right to prohibit its use on the field. I use the word in private, and have for myself expanded its application beyond just Black people. It has for years had many applications among Black people. One of which was and still may be to indicate a male as opposed to a female. We would use it a lot in response to the question of whether there were a lot of chicks at a particular neighborhood party, and a response might be - nah just a bunch of n-words. I think its safe to say that the use of the n-word in public around whites is a generational thing. The youth today, and many younger adults don't see anything wrong with it. They can't think beyond themselves or their friends, and consider how things impact other people. That is the issue. They don't have enough respect for others to regulate their actions or behavior, in fact; many feel they have no obligation to do so. I use the word, when its merited, in private and with other Black people I know who feel the same about it's use. These players know that mics are on the field and that fans are in within hearing range. Kids and young people are a large part of the fan base, but these players don't care what they say on the field. Other offensive language will also be policed. Today's generation have no appreciation for sportsmanship. The leagues have given in to the 'all about me' mentality of today's athletes, and much of the fan base are adults of this new generation. I would bet most fans today don't care, and that is an indictment on not just the NFL, but on society in general.


Also if they say cracker

crazy d

I can't wait for that first flag. It's going to be a hoot.

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