NFL contemplates on-pitch penalties for derogatory slurs

Story highlights

  • NFL Committee to decide on whether to punish slurs with on-pitch penalties
  • Team guilty of abusive language would be penalized 15 yards
  • Decision to change rules could take place as early as next month
  • Mooted change follows Miami Dolphins scandal of last year

In European soccer, the punishment for racially abusing an opponent is a 10-match ban.

In American football, the same offense could result in the offending team being penalized 15 yards.

That's the proposal on the table when the NFL's Competitions Committee meets next week, as the body considers penalizing players for using abusive language during games.

High on the list of derogatory slurs the NFL is trying to outlaw is use of the 'N-word', while penalties for homophobic comments are also being discussed. A second incident could result in ejection.

Read: What you don't get about NFL bullying

"It is a potential rule modification being discussed by our Competition Committee," the NFL statement read.

"The committee has not decided on a formal proposal to our clubs, who have to approve rule changes by a 3/4 vote (24 of 32 teams).

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    "Rule change proposals are presented to our teams at our annual league meeting in late March.

    "The game officials already have substantial authority to police verbal abuse/unsportsmanlike conduct and they understand the league's focus on respect."

    Should the Competitions Committee decide to approve the proposal, the body will then present their findings to the NFL's owners at a meeting in March.

    Racism became a major issue in the NFL last year after the Miami Dolphins suspended offensive lineman Richie Incognito for detrimental conduct following allegations of misconduct from teammate Jonathan Martin.

    An independent investigation found continuing threats and verbal and physical abuse, text messages, racial slurs and vulgar sexual comments made about Martin's mother and sister by Incognito and some of his Dolphins teammates.

    Another Dolphins player, an unnamed offensive lineman, was allegedly subjected to homophobic name calling and improper physical touching.

    Incognito's lawyer said the report is replete with errors, adding: "The that Jonathan Martin was never bullied by Richie Incognito or any member of the Dolphins' Offensive line," said Attorney Mark Schamel, in a statement to CNN.

    In Europe, racism generated plenty of unwanted headlines throughout 2013 - a year which featured two walk-offs involving famous Italian side AC Milan.

    Read: Boateng wants referees to have greater power

    Former Ghana international Kevin-Prince Boateng led his team off during a friendly against lower tier Pro Patria in January, while Guinea's Kevin Constant simply left the pitch himself in a separate incident during a match against Serie A side Sassuolo in July.

    One of the most high profile cases came in 2011 when Liverpool star Luis Suarez was banned for eight games after a football association panel found him guilty of racially abusing Manchester United's Patrice Evra.

    In Italy, several clubs have been punished after their fans were adjudged to have racially abused visiting players - with Lazio alone having paid $300,000 in fines last year after being charged four times by European football's governing body UEFA.

    Last year, UEFA announced that players and officials will face a 10-match ban if found guilty of racist abuse.

    Hidden Dangers?

    In the United States, Ozzie Newscome -- general manager of the Baltimove Ravens and a member of the NFL's competition committee -- believes the proposals need thorough testing before any implementation.

    "With any rule that we put into play, we have to look at it from A to Z and find out what are the unintended consequences as much as the consequences," he was quoted as saying on the NFL website.

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    "But as it was stated in our meeting, there are mics everywhere. So, if something is being said, it's probably going to be captured somewhere. So, it would be an opportunity to get it verified if we had to."

    Last week, the head of the Fritz Pollard Alliance, an organization dedicated to promoting diversity and equality of job opportunity in the NFL, said he would be surprised should the move fail to go through.

    "I will be totally shocked if the competition committee does not uphold us on what we're trying to do," said John Wooten, the group's Chairman, in an interview with

    "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."

    Last December, shortly after the Incognito story broke, Fritz Pollard called on NFL players to stop using the 'N-word'.

    Read: Is Dolphins coach to blame for Incognito mess?

    "Simply put, from this day forward please choose to not use the "N" word. Period!," their statement read.

    "Do not take the position that you are not bothered by the word. If you tolerate the language being used casually now, at some point in the future, either as a current or former player, you may hear it directed at you. How do you think you will respond?"

    In an interview with ESPN, Pittsburgh Steelers safety Ryan Clark, explained that the use of racial slurs is not always as it seems.

    "I think it's going to be really tough to legislate this rule, to find a way to penalize everyone who uses this word," said Clark.

    "And it's not going to be white players using it toward black players. Most of the time you hear it, it's black players using the word."

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