The NFL will have “zero tolerance” this season for players’ on-field use of racial slurs or abusive language relating to sexual orientation, the league tells players in a league-produced officiating video to be shown to teams during training camps this summer.
“We also want to stress that there will be zero tolerance for unsportsmanlike conduct, particularly verbal abuse directed at an opponent,” Dean Blandino, the NFL’s vice president of officiating, tells players during the nearly 12-minute video.
The video is to be shown to players by game officials during their annual visits to teams’ training camps.
The league announced during the offseason it would use existing rules addressing unsportsmanlike conduct to enact a ban on the use of racial slurs during games. NFL officials said they felt that a formal rule change was unnecessary to implement the ban.
Infractions are to result in 15-yard penalties and, according to the officiating video, could lead to additional disciplinary action by the league.
The Fritz Pollard Alliance, the diversity group that works closely with the NFL on its hiring practices, pushed for the ban, largely in response to an incident during a game last season in which Washington Redskins left tackle Trent Williams was accused of directing a racial slur at a game official, umpire Roy Ellison. Williams denied the accusation and was not disciplined by the league for the incident.
The NFL announced in November that Ellison had been suspended without pay for a game for making a profane and derogatory statement to Williams. The NFL Referees Association, which also accused Williams of using a racial slur at Ellison, denounced Ellison’s suspension, announcing plans to file a grievance on behalf of Ellison. The outcome of the attempt to restore Ellison’s lost pay was not announced.
“As the most visible and influential sports entity, we have an obligation to set the standard for sportsmanship,” a narrator says during the NFL’s officiating video. “The use of abusive, threatening or insulting language directed at opponents, teammates, game officials or representatives of the league is covered under unsportsmanlike conduct in the playing rules. This includes racial slurs, comments regarding sexual orientation or other verbal abuse. Actions such as these will result in 15-yard penalties and potential discipline. Coaches, game officials and other league personnel will be held to the same high standard.”
The video also is to be shown to media members during the officials’ camp visits. The video has not yet been released to the media, but a copy was obtained by The Washington Post.
“We are all professionals,” Troy Vincent, the NFL’s executive vice president of football operations, tells players during the video. “You have worked hard and excelled for the honor and the privilege of playing in the National Football League. So have your competitors and game officials. Respect them. No amount of emotion should give way to demeaning and offensive language or actions in our workplace. That includes the locker room, on the practice field, during a game or when traveling as a team.”
The references to team facilities like the locker room recall the highly-public Miami Dolphins bullying incident last season, which resulted in the departure of offensive tackle Jonathan Martin from the franchise, a three-month team-imposed suspension of fellow offensive lineman Richie Incognito and an NFL-commissioned investigation.
In the wake of that incident, the league is making a concerted effort to create a more sensitive and tolerant working environment before the start of this season, one that will also see the introduction of openly gay St. Louis Rams rookie Michael Sam.