Falcons tackle touchy subject: the N-word

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- As he sat at his locker and pondered the topic, Roddy White was quick to point out how often Tony Gonzalez discourages his Atlanta Falcons teammates from using the N-word.

In discussing the matter with Gonzalez, it's easy to understand why.

"Growing up in Huntington Beach, [Calif.], and being a mixed kid, I had some racism thrown at me," said Gonzalez, who has Hispanic, Jamaican and African-American roots in his family. "I don't know if these guys have had it or not, but I tell them ... I've been walking down the street and had people sticking their head out the window yelling that word. I've been there where I've had pictures slid to me in high school where it's a black person sucking on a banana with the word at the bottom.

"So, I just don’t like that word at all, where it's used racially. I know the whole concept of defusing it, of saying we're going to say it so much that it takes away the power. But if a white person says it, obviously there will be a fight. So obviously, the power is still there. It still hurts."

The touchy subject of use of the N-word in sports became a national storyline when the Fritz Pollard Alliance, an influential organization aimed at promoting diversity and equality in the NFL, recently implored players to cease from using the word on the field. The stance followed highly publicized incidents with the Miami Dolphins and Washington Redskins.

Gonzalez can relate to the organization's plea.

"That word is filled with hate," Gonzalez said. "I don't like that word at all. When they use it in rap songs and in the locker room ... I always correct them and say, 'Try not to use that word around me.'"

The Fritz Pollard Alliance actually sent a letter to the NFL recommending players get penalized 15 yards or be ejected for using the N-word on the field.

White offered another suggestion.

"What are they going to do, start fining people? That will make you stop using that word on the field, I'll tell you that right now," White said. "If it's $5,000 every time you say it, you're done. That word will go away very fast."

It's not an outrageous concept, considering Los Angeles Clippers forward Matt Barnes recently was fined $25,000 for going on a Twitter rant using the N-word.

Although White knows the word is used around him on occasion, he agrees with the philosophy behind the call for change.

"It will be a hard task, but we all have to put in a collective effort," White said. "It's too much a lot of times. We just have to find ways to fix it. And Tony speaks about it all the time, saying that we don’t need to use it."

Linebacker Sean Weatherspoon, known as the vocal leader in the Falcons' locker room, offered his thoughts on the N-word.

"I think that word is a sharp sword," Weatherspoon said. "It depends on the context, the context that it's used in. But I think it would be good to cut down on that; try to eliminate that.

"My mom wouldn't want me saying it, which is why I would agree with what they're trying to do. I think that would be good. And I think we do a pretty good job on this team of trying to keep that to a minimum as well."

Redskins offensive tackle Trent Williams has been accused of using the N-word toward umpire Roy Ellison in a game against Philadelphia. The Alliance came to the defense of Ellison, who previously has been questioned and criticized for allegedly using racially tinged profanity toward Williams.

Also in Miami, offensive lineman Richie Incognito, who is white, reportedly used the N-word in the fallout with former teammate Jonathan Martin, who is black.

"People in my family use the word," Gonzalez said. "It doesn't mean it’s right, though. Also with the '-a' compared to the '-er' version of it, it's like it's a friend thing or whatever. To me, it's just ignorant. It's just my opinion. I think it's a shame when they use it in music. That's just my opinion. So I just don't agree with it at all."