Small Groups
Steph Martin

Stephanie Martin, a writer and editor in Colorado, has two teenage daughters.

In The News

Washington—Sports radio is buzzing about the NFL’s proposed no-slur rule, which may soon be implemented. Players would be penalized 15 yards for using discriminatory words—especially the N-word.

Groups such as the Fritz Pollard Alliance have been lobbying the league to ban the N-word and to promote diversity and tolerance. Chairman John Wooten said, “We want this word to be policed from the parking lot to the equipment room to the locker room. Secretaries, [public relations] people, whoever, we want it eliminated completely and want it policed everywhere.”

Reactions to the proposed rule are mixed. Some people say it will be tough to legislate, especially during the heat of competition.

Wyoming safety Marqueston Huff said, “There’s no way possible that you’re going to eliminate the word from the whole game. It’s a game of emotion. You go out there and say some things you might regret later.”

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Other people say the word has become part of African-American culture, and the 70 percent of NFL players who are African-American will be the ones penalized.

Yet others argue the issue isn’t complex. “The N-word brands black people as inferior and unworthy of human respect,” write Jason Whitlock, calling it “the shackle on our brains.”

Whitlock argues there’s no way to redefine the N-word as a term of endearment. “Many African-Americans simply do not fully understand the power of words and branding,” he writes. “They do not comprehend that mental enslavement is more devastating and debilitating than physical enslavement.”

Some people are using this linguistics debate to urge the NFL to remove team names they find offensive, such as Redskins. Simon Moya-Smith, who is of Native American descent, writes, “We will not sit idly by as opulent white men tell us that the R-word isn’t an epithet and that it’s part of their tradition.”


Sources: espn.com. washingtonpost.com, sportsgrid.com, cnn.com

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Discussion Questions for Students

How do you feel about this proposed ban? How effective do you expect it to be, and why? Should the league need a language-related penalty? What, if anything, does that say about our culture today?

Do you think athletes have the right to say whatever they want on the football field? Or do officials have the responsibility to make that “workplace” less hostile? Explain.

Would it be better if players just enforced the rule among themselves, using peer pressure to end use of the N-word? Why or why not?

What would you say to people who claim the N-word now has a different meaning among African-Americans? Is it possible to co-opt a vile word and make it your own? Or will that word always have negative connotations? Explain.

How do you feel about the use of team nicknames such as Redskins? Who should have the final say about what nicknames are deemed offensive, and why?

What types of language-related rules, whether written or understood, exist at your school or among your friends?

What words or names do you find most inflammatory, and how do you react when people use them in front of you? Are you comfortable asking people to refrain from certain types of speech? Why or why not?

In what ways can our words enslave us? How does language affect our perceptions of other people? How does our language affect other people’s perceptions of us?

Think of a time you said something in the heat of the moment that you later regretted: How did you handle the situation? What damage did your words cause, and how much of that damage were you able to repair?

What are some ways that language can set people free or provide healing? How can you use words this week to bring hope or joy to someone?

Scripture links: Psalm 19:14; Proverbs 12:18; Matthew 12:33-37; Ephesians 4:29; Colossians 4:6; and James 3:1-12.

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