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NFL Hypocrisy: Banning the N-Word, But Supporting the R-Word

The National Football League [NFL] is reportedly about to ban the use of racist and gender-related slurs on the field and elsewhere, even to the point of imposing a 15-yard penalty, or even ejecting a player from the field, for uttering words like "n*gger" and "f*ggot."

But the new rule will apparently ignore one of the most racist, offensive, and derogatory words used hundreds of times every day by the league itself and by one of its teams: "R*dskins."

Imagine the irony, says public interest law professor John Banzhaf. "Call an American Indian player a "r*dskin" on the field and you will be lose yardage and then be ejected, but use the same word in reference to an entire team and you are defended and rewarded."

Banzhaf is helping to lead the battle to change the team's name, and—with several former FCC Commissioners—to use federal broadcast law to prevent its use on radio and television, especially during times when impressionable children are watching and listening.

The NFL's competition committee will reportedly enact a rule prohibiting the use of offensive words "from the parking lot to the equipment room to the locker room" at the March owners' meeting.

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The rule will likely cover sexist and homosexual slurs as well as the N-word, but not the R-word - which has been held in numerous legal proceedings, in dictionaries, and by every major American Indian organization to be a derogatory, offensive, racist term equally as insulting and wrong as the N-word.

John Wooten, the head of the Fritz Pollard Alliance, which monitors diversity in the NFL, says of the competition committee, which will meet this week in Naples, Florida: "I think they're going to do what needs to be done here . . . There is too much disrespect in the game." But, asks Banzhaf, doesn't this also apply equally to the widely-criticized racist "R*dskins" name.

I was not the only one to see the irony in an anti-slur rule which ignores the word "R*dskins," as many fans commenting on news web sites voiced similar concerns. As just another example, Christopher Stuart in the Huffington Post writes, "I find it appalling that the NFL who has a whole team—I repeat a whole team—that is named after a racial slur against First Nations peoples, the Washington Redskins, is all of a sudden in the business of 'politically correctness.'"

Eliminating racism and the use of racist language from the NFL is a worthy and long overdue goal, but it cannot be confined to just one race. The use of the word "n*ggers" is reprehensible, especially in this day and age, but so are the use of words like "ch*nks," "w*tbacks," "r*gheads," and "r*dskins."

John F. Banzhaf III, B.S.E.E., J.D., Sc.D., is a professor of public interest law at George Washington University Law School.