The Norman Transcript

February 26, 2014

Changing NFL culture comes with consequences

By Clay Horning
The Norman Transcript

NORMAN — Of all the theories why the United States chose to invade Iraq, one that stands up over time is the misguided assumption that, if democracy could take hold in that country, the entire region could change.

It can be argued, given the lack of WMD, the cost, human and monetary, to say nothing of the geo-political consequences beyond Iraq, that the operation, all these years later, has been entirely regrettable.

On the other hand, nobody seems too upset any more about what Roger Goodell has done since becoming NFL commissioner, perhaps most notably reserving the right to enforce discipline on the field for bad behavior transgressed off it.

Pacman Jones, the seeming poster boy for the policy, after being suspended for all of 2007 and part of 2008, has managed to remain in the league, pretty much without incident, since.

Ben Roethlisberger, though he escaped criminal prosecution, missed part of the 2010 season after being investigated for an incident occurring in the restroom of a nightclub. Since serving his suspension, he’s not embarrassed himself, his team nor the game.

The lesson?

Changing culture’s no picnic. But if you can pull it off, and for the better, you will not look silly, nor must you apologize for your heavy-handed tactics afterward

The neocons may not have apoligized but they’ve been pretty much laughed out of the public square. The NFL, however, is a world apart, a place where being preemptive and proactive has worked. 

Given that, perhaps as a response to the Wells report, which sought to detail the flap between Richie Incognito and Jonathan Martin as Miami Dolphins linemen last season, the NFL is thinking about taking a bigger stand in the culture wars, daring to suspend use of the N-word, at least on the field, at the cost of a 15-yard penalty.

Isn’t it difficult when free speech and the title of Spike Lee’s masterpiece — “Do the Right Thing” — are at odds.

The voices are interesting.

Herm Edwards, the former NFL coach, player and now ESPN mouthpiece, has done his best to offer nothing helpful.

“If we want to clean it up … Seventy percent of the National Football League is black,” he said. “They can clean it up.”



Because whoever figured just because something could be cleaned up, that it would be cleaned up and simply left it to the offenders?

Wonder how well that approach would have worked among polluters in the 1970s?

Jason Whitlock, the polarizing columnist, writing for ESPN, has come down on the side of prohibition.

“I hope Roger Goodell and the NFL ignore the critics and impose a code of workplace conduct that forces young black men to abandon white supremacy’s greatest weapon,” he wrote.

I want to feel that way, too, because whenever I hear young black men use the word amongst each other, or even conjure the idea of the word being used in such a context, no matter how innocently, I always think, unwittingly, permission is being given for somebody else to use it not so innocently.

Then, almost immediately, the thought is tempered by another thought, the one that asks who elected me to decide what the best practices are for those whose history I simply don’t share.


It’s one thing to attempt to change culture and fail dramatically at great peril and cost. It’s another thing to attempt to change culture and pull it off. And it’s another thing still to back up and ask, “You know, who gets to decide the culture needs changing?”

Maybe, too, there’s the unfettered capitalistic approach.

Let the market sort it out.

Here’s what I really hope happens.

I hope they ban the word. 

I hope they put undercover trainers in all 32 NFL locker rooms, like air marshals, and punish hazing the same way they punish perpetual bad behavior off the field. 

I hope the kicking and screaming over the loss of the sanctity of the locker room doesn’t last too long, but I won’t mind if it does just as long as all the stupid and indefensible shenanigans that go right along with America’s most popular sport are eradicated.

I want these things because the greater good will be served.

It might very well filter down to the colleges and high schools and Pop Warner leagues. And even if it doesn’t, at least a fine example will have been set.

Mostly, I want it to work. 

If playoff positions are influenced by suspension more than level of play, and if every day another round of stars are suspended, nobody’s going to be very happy. Then, everything blows up, and opportunity is lost. 

It would be too bad, because attempting to change culture can be a dicey thing.

Look around.

There’s evidence everywhere.

Clay Horning

Follow me @clayhorning

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