"The N-word is used in so many ways that we as black people have learned to make it a term of endearment, (and) even though I don’t necessarily agree it’s a term of endearment, if it’s used in that way and a white referee comes in and says 'I’m throwing a flag because I heard you use the N-word, I would absolutely lose it on the field. I would go nuts.'" Clark said Wednesday on ESPN’s Mike & Mike show. “And I think a black coach would also be pretty upset if he got a 15-yard penalty because of two of his teammates were talking to each other and they threw a flag.”
John Wooten, who heads the Fritz-Pollard Alliance, which monitors diversity in the NFL, has pushed for a no-tolerance policy of the N-word. Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome said last week at the NFL scouting combine that the competition committee will further discuss how penalizing players during games could discourage the use of the word.
The problem, Clark said, is that the “football field is a workplace like no other.”
“When you’re inside of a building and you’re representing an employer, which for me would be the Pittsburgh Steelers, I look at that as the workplace,” Clark said. “I look at that where things can be policed, where things can be legislated because you’re working for an owner. When you’re out there on the field it’s not a work place anymore. It’s not civil.”
Clark recounted a story in which Steelers chairman emeritus Dan Rooney, long a champion of diversity in the NFL, heard some of Pittsburgh’s players using the N-word in the locker room.
Clark said Rooney encouraged cornerback Ike Taylor to talk to his teammates about it but didn’t ban the word from the locker room.
“I actually walked by during the conversation and he was just telling (Taylor), ‘Hey look, people fought against that word. The origin of that word is demeaning,’ ” Clark said. “(Rooney) was there during the Civil Rights movement so he knows people who fought against that and he’s like ‘You guys shouldn’t be using it. You should understand that it wasn’t meant as a term of endearment so you guys should try to get away from it.’ He was more giving Ike knowledge of the word and its origins then just saying, ‘Hey I don’t want it here.’ It’s about understanding the meaning and origin of the word, which is why I don’t use it.
“Mr. Rooney has earned the right to speak on anything he wants to but especially that word. Not only being instrumental in the Rooney Rule that they implemented into the NFL but by the way he treats us as people, by the way he treats coach Tomlin.”
Clark said players are mindful not to use the word in places where it could make people uncomfortable or reflect poorly on the organization.
“I don’t remember a time where I’ve been on a team where an athlete has used the N-word during an interview, where an athlete has used the N-word where it might be on record or where he felt like TV cameras were around,” Clark said. “They don’t use it when they’re around the office staff upstairs. They don’t use it in the cafeteria when we’re in mixed company. We understand what the right place is to use the word.”