Can everyone stop using N-word? 

click to enlarge Andrew Harrison
  • Darron Cummings/ 2014 AP File Photo
  • Kentucky’s Andrew Harrison jumped into the national spotlight for using a slur in reference to Wisconsin’s Frank Kaminsky.
If we truly are interested in eliminating racism in this country, uniting as one, then all usage of the N-word must stop. Now. Forever.

That goes for Charles Barkley, as influential as he is vocal, a barker who loses cred as a race commentator when he brazenly says “white America” can’t tell him to stop using the N-word. That goes for NBA player Matt Barnes, who says he’ll keep using the N-word in on-court trash-talking and locker-room bantering no matter who doesn’t like it. That goes for rappers, comedians, you, me, everyone.

Why? Maybe because a 20-year-old named Andrew Harrison hears the N-word echo through popular culture and finds himself muttering it, under his breath after a difficult loss, when a reporter asks a Kentucky teammate about Wisconsin star Frank Kaminsky, who happens to be white. Why ban the N-word in a free republic? Maybe because Final Four conversation that should be devoted entirely to a compelling championship game — Duke vs. Wisconsin, Jahlil Okafor vs. Kaminsky, legendary Mike Krzyzewski vs. a lovable coaching lifer named Bo Ryan — has been interrupted by yet another discussion about sports and race.

“F--- that n-----,” Harrison said, mouth covered yet in front of a microphone, which picked up the racial slur and sent it careening across social media and into the mainstream.

Before most of America was awake Sunday morning, Harrison already had apologized on Twitter, a suggestion surely made by Kentucky’s image-styled, media-obsessed coach, John Calipari. But the apology was a more flagrant violation than the original comment, as Harrison exacerbated the issue by saying his comment was made “in jest.”

We cannot stop racism when the N-word is dropped “in jest.” Either we’re all serious about ending this social sickness or we should stop talking about it and let it be. What was Ferguson about? What were the “I Can’t Breathe” T-shirts about? What was “Selma” about, the lessons and the movie? We spend weeks and months and years in critical, sobering, life-and-death conversation about this topic, and then, as if none of it really mattered, someone drops the N-word casually. Or “in jest.” Or to spike a TV rating. Or to sell music. Or to either mock or praise an opponent, the latter of which Harrison claimed to be doing, neither of which is acceptable.

“First I want to apologize for my poor choice of words used in jest toward a player I respect and know,” Harrison tweeted.

“When I realized how this could be perceived I immediately called big frank to apologize and let him know I didn’t mean any disrespect.

“We had a good conversation and I wish him good luck in the championship game Monday.”

Harrison will be forgiven as a youth who made a mistake, but his comment should not be forgotten. Let it serve as yet another example of why a monumental subject in American history cannot be turned into humor. Kaminsky himself should have known better earlier in the NCAA Tournament, when he and his teammates were asked how they would want an opponent to describe them. “Resilient,” said one. “Disciplined,” said another. “Unselfish,” said another. “Tough,” said another.

“White guys,” said Kaminsky, a character.

Let’s just not go there. USA Today actually published a racial breakdown of the Final Four starters. The newspaper wrote: “... all five starters for Kentucky, Duke and Michigan State will be African American. Wisconsin’s starting lineup, by contrast, includes one African American, forward Nigel Hayes.”

We’re not supposed to be seeing color. We’re supposed to be seeing humankind. Why is USA Today counting the number of black and white starters?

In the end, instead of making a sizable imprint as the eighth perfect team in college men’s basketball history, Kentucky goes down in shame. There was the Harrison slur. There were the 30-some arrests in Lexington, Ky., where the 71-64 loss to Wisconsin wasn’t digested well. Yes, Kentucky sells; the game had the highest rating for a national semifinal in 22 years. But personally, I’m not sad that Calipari and his exploitation scheme — nakedly using “college” basketball as a way to fast-track players and their parents to NBA riches — have been purged before the title game, proving again that Coach Cal is a much better salesman than he is a strategist. I’d just like someone to explain the odd timing of Calipari, only hours after the Wisconsin loss, being elected to the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame while Ryan lacked the necessary number of votes.

Sports can be a powerful forum for race, as Major League Baseball reminds us with its ongoing “42” tribute to Jackie Robinson. But perspective is lacking in some quarters. ESPN originally announced it was launching a black sportswriting site, which made me wonder why the network also wasn’t starting an Asian-related sportswriting site and a Latino-related sportswriting site and so forth. Why narrow the audiences? Why separate us instead of using sports media as a way to bond and connect us? By no coincidence, ESPN has shifted the focus to define “sports, race and culture” as the site’s regular theme, going so far to appoint a white Washington Post columnist among its initial hires. The site’s first effort — described as a sneak preview for a projected summer launch — was a long Barkley profile that had one glaring omission.

Why does Barkley, a man crusading against racism, use the N-word?

Jay Mariotti is sports director and lead sports columnist at The San Francisco Examiner. He can be reached at jmariotti@sfexaminer.com. Read his website at jaymariotti.com.

About The Author

Jay Mariotti

Jay Mariotti

Bio:
Jay Mariotti is sports director and lead sports columnist at the San Francisco Examiner. He can be reached at jmariotti@sfexaminer.com. Read his website at jaymariotti.com.
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