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NFL expected to penalize players for using N-word on the field

A rule change could impose a 15-yard penalty for players who use the racial slur on the field.

Allison Joyce

The NFL competition committee is expected to approve a rule at the league meetings in March that would penalize players who use the N-word on the field, according to a Saturday report from the Associated Press.

The Fritz Pollard Alliance, which monitors diversity in the NFL, told the media that it expects the rule change to levy a 15-yard penalty for players overheard using the word on the field.

Baltimore Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome also mentioned the rule change at his Saturday press conference in Indianapolis at the Combine.

John Wooten, head of the Alliance, explained the thinking behind the rule change to CBS Sports:

"I will be totally shocked if the competition committee does not uphold us on what we're trying to do. We want this word to be policed from the parking lot to the equipment room to the locker room.

"Secretaries, PR people, whoever, we want it eliminated completely and want it policed everywhere."

The league has undertaken greater efforts to promote a more tolerate workplace in the wake of several incidents, including teams asking players at last year's Combine about their sexual orientation.

Newsome elaborated on the process:

"If there's a need to, we'll present something to our owners in Orlando."

"With any rule we put into play, we have to look at it A-Z and what are the unintended consequences as well as the consequences. But as it was stated in our meeting, there are mics everywhere. If something's being said, it's captured somewhere. It would be an opportunity to get it verified if we had to."

Penalizing players for using a racial slur in the workplace is one step toward progress, but like most of the NFL's efforts at promoting tolerance, it's haphazard. What about other racist or homophobic slurs that might slide out of a player's mouth during a game? There's also the matter of implementation and interpretation, which left in the hands of officials could lead to the penalty being called differently from week to week and crew to crew.

And what about off the field, in places like a locker room, where the league is still reeling from the revelations about what happened in Miami with Richie Incognito and others, including a coach and a trainer, harassing Jonathan Martin and other players?

The NFL desperately needs to establish a clear and comprehensive code of workplace conduct, for both on and off the field, instead of reacting to incidents as they happen with a bevy of memos and piecemeal measures.