Sticks and stones may break your bones, but bad words will draw a 15-yard penalty in the NFL. Or so says Jacksonville Jaguar wide receiver Marqise Lee, who said he received an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty for using the N-word during the Jaguars’ last game.
Lee, who is African American, said his language was part of a back-and-forth with Oakland Raider players who were also using the N-word, and as Lee describes it, “In the midst of the game, emotion is going from both teams. It just so happened the ref heard me, so therefore I got the flag. I’ve got to fess up to it.”
All this got me thinking, should NFL refs also be speech police? Are there other words that are verboten for players to utter during an NFL game? If so, what are they, and are they clearly spelled out in the rulebook and the collective bargaining agreement with the players’ union? Is the penalty for black-on-black use of the N-word the same as if a white player hurled the insult at a black player? Should there be a sliding scale of justice for bad language — the N-word draws you a 15-yard penalty and the F-word only five yards? Do other sports like baseball, basketball, and hockey have their own version of George Carlin’s seven dirty words that will automatically get a player in trouble if used during competition, even if out of earshot of fans and TV and radio microphones?
How far should sports, like the NFL, take such policies? If Marqise Lee had spotted a good-looking woman in the stands and said something provocative about her looks to a teammate in the huddle and this was overheard by a referee, would this merit a flag? If not, why not? Such is the complexity of living in modern America, where everyone seems proud of our heritage of free speech but shudders at the possibility that people may use it. Personally, I try my best to abstain from both bad and hurtful language as I don’t believe it is a gentlemanly thing to do, but I also don’t feel entitled to have my manners foisted on others who feel differently.
The NFL is a private institution, so it is free to regulate its employees’ speech in the work place. By the same token, if bad language can draw an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty, why can’t the NFL throw a flag at each player who takes a knee during the National Anthem? Aren’t those players also being poor sports?
Hopefully I’ve illustrated how convoluted things become once you start sanctioning speech. The Founding Fathers were wise not to get into the business of prohibiting speech, especially political speech, as doing so can quickly become a slippery slope to tyranny.
During the last presidential debate, the candidates spent some time talking about the Second Amendment, which is understandable given the left’s obsession with “gun violence.” But when was the last time we really stopped to seriously consider the First Amendment? I would argue that the First Amendment is likely to tumble before the Second does. One doesn’t have to travel too far to find the nearest public university where speech zones regulate when and what subjects you can talk about. Mention Jesus in a positive manner, discuss your concerns over the current immigration issue, or argue that you don’t believe white privilege exists, and there’s a good chance you’ll be run out of school faster than the refs threw a flag on Marqise Lee.
Notice, too, who has set themselves up as the arbiter of speech — the left. It has seized the day playing on people’s “sensitivity” to drum up speech codes that its people write up and enforce. None of this is coincidental, as he who controls speech controls the populace. Complain about the growing tide of speech codes and the left will quickly bully you into silence, attacking you as a racist, sexist, homophobic bigot and whatever else will shut you up.
If I may close with a play on a line that liberals of my youth used to spout all the time, but now have abandoned because it’s no longer to their political advantage to affirm: I disapprove of what Marqise Lee said during the last Jacksonville Jaguar game, but I defend his right to say it.