Can the NFL Ban the N-Word?

With dual meanings, it doesn't seem to be going anywhere
By Matt Cantor,  Newser Staff
Posted Nov 10, 2014 10:32 AM CST
Can the NFL Ban the N-Word?
An NFL game ball with "Salute to Service" logo is seen on the sideline before an NFL football game between the Green Bay Packers and the Chicago Bears on Nov. 9, 2014, in Green Bay, Wis.   (AP Photo/Mike Roemer)

The NFL is trying to ban the use of the N-word entirely, but that may be a futile task in a country whose relationship to the word is constantly evolving, the Washington Post reports. Today, the word—ending with "a" rather than "er"—is used some 500,000 times a day on Twitter, compared to 300,000 times a day for "bro." "I'm still uncomfortable with [a] white guy saying, 'You're a cool n---a,'" says a comedian of mixed heritage. "But in 25 years, I would hope that my kid's not uncomfortable—because that white guy wouldn't mean it in a demeaning, degrading way." Others disagree. "It's impossible to separate the word from various manifestations of white supremacy," says literature professor Jabari Asim, who's written a book on the word.

An NFL ban would ignore the importance of context in the word's use, Dave Sheinin and Krissah Thompson write at the Post: It's a linguistic oddity whose second meaning is "pretty much the exact opposite of the original," they note. Former NFL player Donte' Stallworth would prefer to "let evolution happen. Let pop culture take that word away to the ocean, and let anyone use it." Regardless of the array of opinions about the word, it doesn't seem to be going anywhere, especially among young people who may not be as aware of its historical implications as previous generations are. The question is whether today's teens, as they get older, will begin rejecting the word—or whether "there will be potbellied middle-aged white men calling each other 'n—a' in 30 years," as a linguistics professor puts it. (Read more football stories.)

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