Tuesday, February 25, 2014

NFL to Solve Racism By Banning N-Word... Homophobic Slurs Soon to Follow?

The NFL is considering banning the N-word on the field of play. Players who use the word could be assessed a 15 yard penalty. This proposal comes after the Richie Incognito bullying/hazing/abuse scandal. There's also a strong possibility that Michael Sam will become the NFL's first openly homosexual player. With eyes and ears open and looking for bigotry in the NFL, the League is motivated to crack down on slurs like the N-word. And perhaps homophobic slurs are next.

It's a nice sentiment from the NFL, but incorrectly focused. It's addressing the symptoms of an illness, but not the cause. Richie Incognito's behavior, for example, is a symptom of a much worse, much more deeply embedded disease. And he'd still be a complete jerk and his actions would still be egregiously wrong even if he never called Jonathan Martin a n-----.

And homophobia doesn't disappear just because people don't call someone a f-- to their face. Any discrimination and any obstacles Michael Sam might face will not be eliminated if the f-word is eliminated from the field of play.

Most of the times you hear n----- on the field, it's from one black player to another. Although sometimes it will be from a white wide receiver to a black security guard. Most of the time it will be between two or more black players, sometimes on the same team, sometimes on different teams, sometimes in a casual way, sometimes as part of aggressive trash talk.

A rule intended to reduce racism against black players will wind up penalizing more black players than white racists.

Enforcing this rule will add more workload to officials who already struggle to enforce basic black and white (forgive the pun) rules in a consistent manner. Officials will have to monitor the voices of 22 men on a field, surrounded by dozens of yelling players and coaches on the sideline, all while 70,000 fans are screaming. Good luck, refs.

This also means louder stadiums will see fewer penalties called. Crowd noise on offense/defense will also have an impact on this penalty.

And if two players from opposing teams both use it, then it offsets? What if one uses it twice and the other only once? What if the ref only hears one player? What if the ref hears it in a pile but can't identify who said it? And it's one thing for a ref to mistakenly call pass interference, it's another if a ref mistakenly penalizes a player for racism.

Officiating decisions determined too many games last year. This misguided attempt to remove racism from the game shouldn't allow officials to spoil any more games with their inconsistent application of rules.

Rules like this would be better enforced with fines after games, and possible suspensions for repeated violations or extreme incidents (example: a white player using the word toward a black player). There are many microphones surrounding a football field, and audio can be reviewed, enhanced, and analyzed. Use technology for this, not human ears, which are prone to human error.

The NFL is taking on a challenge that can't be solved by rules or by removing words from the field. Race relations/civil rights is one of the most complex and contentious issues in American history. I don't think the NFL is going to eliminate any racism in their League by eliminating racist language from the game.

This is an attempt to make a show of effort. It's just for display. After the Incognito story and the impending arrival of Michael Sam, the NFL is being scrutinized. And its skeletons are out in the open, not even hidden in closets. They even have a team called the Redskins!

The NFL is now trying to seem like these issues are an important priority. Either that or the League is misguided/dumb enough to think that penalizing players for words will do anything to eliminate bigotry.

The NFL is a League of contradiction between how it wants to be perceived and how it actually is. The NFL wants a clean image to go along with its product of violence and primal intensity. They want players faster and stronger and hitting each other with more brutality, but they don't want bonuses paid out for hard hits. They want players who push their bodies beyond normal human tolerances, but not if certain substances are used to surpass those tolerances.

Now they want men who play with raw emotions and use their instinct instead of thinking, but who also watch their language.

Tribute to Harold Ramis

Harold Ramis passed away on Monday at the age of 69. When I was a kid, his character Egon was my favorite in Ghostbusters, probably because he had glasses and was nerdy, just like me. When I grew up I discovered that Ramis had a hand in creating all the characters in Ghosbusters and Ghostbusters II as the screenwriter. He wasn't just funny on the screen in movies like Stripes, his writing and directing was making me and everyone else laugh in movies like Caddyshack, Analyze This, and Groundhog Day.

Think about how many laughs you've laughed in your life. And how many of them were generated by Harold Ramis. It's a considerable percentage. What keeps me from being completely and utterly depressed by that thought is that he'll continue to make all of us laugh for years. Because these movies are still hilarious and always will be.

He added lots of laughter to a lot of lives. He also added to our language.

"So I got that going for me."

As an actor he could make you laugh with just an expression. Like in this clip from Stripes...

And this one from Ghostbusters II...

He worked great as part of a duo or team of funny actors, like here with Bill Murray...

In his movies he took the normal and expected behavior of people and made it funny. What I mean by that is he used the language that people such as psychologists use on a normal basis, as a means of being humorous. To Ramis, a funny psychologist was a psychologist who acted like a psychologist, not one who acted zany or outside the expected norms of his role in society. And even when this shrink finds himself in an unfamiliar setting, even as he tries to blend in with that setting, he still acts like a shrink. As demonstrated by Billy Crystal's character in Analyze This...

There's rising tension as the scene reaches its climax and one character is about to kill another, yet you're laughing.

In Bedazzled he did something similar with the way athletes and sports commentators speak. Bedazzled is okay, it's not great, it has some great parts. And it has Elizabeth Hurley's parts...

In Bedazzled these are slightly exaggerated caricatures of what sports media and athletes are like, but there is a basis of truth to how the characters speak and act. Which is why it's funny. Ramis would create a normal character who was different and eccentric enough to be funny, but not too different to stretch believability and become cartoonish.

What I liked most about Ramis was his unique delivery. His jokes came naturally, they surprised you, they didn't make you burst out laughing but instead make you shake your head and laugh once you got the joke. At the very end of this clip from Ghostbusters II he does something that makes you laugh and you don't see it coming at all, because the dialogue is so natural, and so typical of a normal scene in a normal movie. That's when humor can have its most lasting and strongest effect...

In Stripes, his line "I'll be right behind you guys, every step of the way," is so exquisitely phrased, timed, delivered. It's just perfect.

He starred in, wrote, and directed some of the all time best comedies in a generation. He worked with greats like Bill Murray, Rodney Dangerfield, Billy Crystal, Dan Akroyd, John Candy, Chevy Chase. He also worked with modern comedic actors like Jack Black, Michael Cera, and David Cross in Year One. He had a small but hilarious role in Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story. He directed four episodes of The Office with Steve Carell. He got to direct Robert De Niro. Twice. That's quite a career.

He was a genius of comedy. R.I.P.