The Jonathan Martin-Rich Incognito bullying fiasco has thrust the use of the N-word, and how it fits into society moving forward, into the social consciousness of the sports community.
The same derogatory symbols and sayings that Jackie Robinson fought so bravely against in the 1940s and 1950s are now being tossed around as trivial expressions. It’s bothering people of all races, but also shedding insight into the complexities of race and its relations in this country, bringing American history to light for those youngsters who aren't interested in turning back the clock.
The use of the N-word was a bombshell topic on ESPN’s "First Take" with Skip Bayless and Stephen A. Smith on Friday morning, in the lingering aftermath of Sunday’s heated verbal exchange between two black men; Washington Redskins left tackle Trent Williams and veteran NFL ref Roy Ellison.
Following Sunday's loss to the Eagles, Williams said during the game that Ellison called him a "garbage ass" and "disrespectful mofo.” Ellison’s camp admits he lost his cool, but only in response to Williams first using the N-word towards him.
This is more negative media shine for the NFL, and unfortunately has nothing to do with real gridiron gossip like Peyton Manning’s historic season or Kansas City’s worst-to-first flight. It’s another case of between-the-lines, in-the-trenches, locker room culture, that should never be put on display for public evaluation.
Williams has vehemently denied using any abusive language during the game. But Ellison has caught most of the flack in the situation and the NFL may even considering disciplinary action if Williams’ claim is substantiated by audio evidence .
"When you have a ref come up to you while you're at the line, about to run a play and call you [those names], to me, this is a player's league. I don't think there's no room for that, to take that from the team and the refs," Williams said after the game. "I think that's very unprofessional. It sucks. I'm at a loss for words. You never expect that as a player going into the game to have to have a beef with the refs also."
Turns out, it's not the first time Ellison has been accused of verbal abuse towards a player. Former NFL head of officiating Mike Pereira said on FOX Football Daily that after a similar accusation, he had to sit down with Ellison and warn him not to let it happen again.
“What concerns me about this is I sat in the same chair that [NFL VP of Officiating] Dean Blandino, the vice president of officiating, is sitting in right now, with the same official, Roy Ellison, who years ago allegedly shouted and swore at players, and it was a big issue that I had to deal with,” Pereira told profootballtalk.com. “I actually had to talk with him in the office to make sure that none of this was going on. So the fact that it has happened twice now with the same individual has to concern the league, and I know they are taking a strong look at this."
Sounds like a brother is going to become the second casualty of the NFL’s no N-word policy, and it was used against him. How ironic. The issue of the N-word has become such a lightening-rod topic for the NFL that Fritz Pollard Alliance Chairman John Wooten, offered a statement on the situation. “We haven’t talked to Roy, but we are told that the players, black and white were saying all types of things back and forth during the game,” said Wooten, whose organization promotes diversity and equality of job opportunity in the NFL’s coaching, front office and scouting staffs. Roy steps in and says, 'Let’s stop this.'”
As further reported by Bayless on "First Take," Ellison’s camp is saying Williams then used the N-word in a racial slur, disregarding Ellison as a “sell out” or Uncle Tom. “By all rights,” Wooten’s statement continued. “Roy should have thrown his flag there and said you’re gone, but he didn’t. He came back at Roy with some bad language, now Roy is wrong too. ”Some people will say the NFL is once again avoiding the real problem, which is the excessive use of the N-word by NFL players. But the NFL has enough internal right now, and focusing on Ellison — who has a history of mouthing off at cats — takes attention away from the various players that were reportedly throwing the N-word around like drunken sailors at a dice game.
While Bayless abhors the word, Smith expressed an interesting point of view in that he takes offense to white people dictating how black people can use the word after creating it under such heinous and hateful circumstances.
A red-faced and obviously uncomfortable and agitated Bayless said:
“At one time, black people were considered subhuman in this country…thought of as nothing more than (people) to enslave. Now we’re going to tell young white kids that it’s ok to use the word? Even if it’s used as a sign of affection from black guy to black guy… as a white guy I can’t get comfortable with that. There’s too much shame attached with using it.”
Then, Stephen A. really went H.A.M. on the panel, which included ex-Vikings running back Robert Smith, who is of mixed race (mother white, father black) and also expressed complete disdain for the word under any circumstances. The intensity and tension in that segment could have cut steel. Skip was rocking in his seat and Stephen's voice was at optimum high-pitch, offended brother levels. He agreed that the word “should be eradicated” from use, but regardless of how egregious the word is, Smith says, he can’t rock with the philosophy that because whites can’t use the word, blacks should have to tone it down.
“That somebody else or their brethren will now come before us and say, even privately amongst yourselves what you shouldn’t do,” an emotionally-charged Smith said on TV…I can’t even.. as right as they may be, we don’t want o hear it from them (white people) because if you know anything about America history what’s going to happen is that you are going to find people who are even more defiant in the use of the word, because the people who were the villains in all of this, now have the audacity and unmitigated gall to step before you and tell you how you’re supposed to act, based on a history that they created.
“It’s a different subject than the Fritz Pollard alliance is addressing. Let’s be real hear. What we are discussing is a subject matter that needs to be addressed amongst ourselves.”
Right now, the discussion is impossible to have, because the generational disconnect is real. An older cat like Ellison, working a job in which he’s probably had to endure much racial discrimination along the way to becoming an NFL ump, felt uncomfortable with the liberal use of the N-word by white and black players. Williams, being of the younger generation, sees Ellison as a sell-out. He trusts his white counterparts more than the old black dude huddling with the white boys and agreeing with anything they say on Sundays just to keep his job.
There’s a conflict of values, attitudes and era’s in play, and for a resolution, we need to start addressing them quickly.