By Ashley Dunkak
CBS DETROIT – As the NFL considers banning the use of the n-word among its players, some wonder whether the f-word, a slang term for a homosexual, will be far behind.
Terry Foster, 97.1 The Ticket radio show host and a longtime Detroit News sportswriter, said he believes the NFL will crack down on both slurs simultaneously, especially since the league expects to have its first openly gay player, Michael Sam, coming into the league for the 2014 season.
“The whole n-word banishment has more to do with getting rid of the f-word,” Foster said, “because now you may have your first openly gay player, and they know if they don’t do something, he’s going to be called that name. He may not like it. They don’t want to see this.
“These things are going hand in hand,” Foster added. “It’s funny that it’s happening now that we may have the first openly gay player in the league.”
While the league could not immediately be reached for comment, NFL Player’s Association executive George Atallah said the banishment of the n-word and the f-word are being discussed.
“Both good questions – neither of which I can comment on extensively at this time,” Atallah said in a phone interview Wednesday, “and the reason for that is because we have been in conversations with our players and the league about the issue and make it a point not to usually discuss things that are still actively being worked out.”
However, Atallah mentioned that there are already anti-discriminatory clauses in the collective bargaining agreement that cover sexual orientation. Whether the use of the f-word would violate those clauses, and whether a player who uses that term would be subject to punishment, are issues still up in the air.
“I think that that is one of the things that we are discussing right now with our players and with the NFL,” Atallah said.
In an ESPN poll of 51 NFL players, 86 percent said a teammate’s sexual orientation did not matter to them. Only 49 percent responded that an openly gay player would be comfortable in an NFL locker room.
Hearing gay slurs might be one of the factors that could cause such discomfort, though Foster said he has not heard the f-word from players as much in the last couple of years as he did previously.
“It was very prevalent before,” Foster said. “Some of it was in a joking way, like if a player didn’t make a play or he backed down from something, all of a sudden he became a fa**ot, and usually it was fa**ot mf. That seemed to be what everybody said, so it was like testing your manhood, they would be joking around, and someone would say something, ‘Aw man, you f, are you kidding me?’ That’s the way it was.
“Now in the last couple years, I just think we’ve changed,” Foster continued. “You’ve got a gay player coming in, we’ve talked about a gay player coming in the league the last two, three years. I think society changes, so I haven’t heard it as much. You hear it on occasion … Now it’s like just joking around, but they don’t do it as much now.”
At least on the field during games, Foster believes a rule banning the f-word could be fairly easily enforced, and he said he thinks players will eventually comply.
“A referee can hear, so if he hears it, he hears it, so I think it’s going to be easy to police,” Foster said. “He’s going to get into a lot of arguments with players who are going to disagree, ‘I didn’t really say that,’ or ‘I was in the heat of the moment.’
“It’s going to be a little bit messy, but players are sort of like sheep,” Foster added. “They’ll learn eventually. You keep fining them or throwing 15-yard penalties, they’ll back down.”
With Sam on the way, Foster said extra sensitivity training for players is likely already happening.
“I’m sure they’ve already got that rolling right now,” Foster said. “There’s going to be some fools that are going to say something, but I think most players realize, you know what, we’re in a changed society and we’ve got to wake up and go in lockstep.”
Atallah did not say whether there would be additional sensitivity training for players due to the arrival of Sam in the league, but he said independent discussion of the topic among players could be just as valuable.
“Our players do a tremendous job of having those conversations between themselves, and I don’t think they get enough credit for having that dialogue among teammates, among players on different teams,” Atallah said. “The player community is a pretty tightly knit one, and that is the best education somebody can have is when a community gets together and talks about issues that might be out of their comfort zone in a way that is constructive and fosters respect, and that’s what you’d want.”
The Fritz Pollard Alliance, an organization that monitors diversity in the NFL, has called for the league to banish the use of the n-word. Chairman John Wooten told CBSSports.com he expects the NFL to acquiesce.
“I will be totally shocked if the competition committee does not uphold us on what we’re trying to do,” Wooten said. “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.
“I think [the league is] going to do what needs to be done here,” he continued. “There is too much disrespect in the game.”