More than sticks and stones

It's America. We have the right to do whatever we want among our friends. I like to joke as much as anybody, and my track record proves that I have trouble staying in the harmless inoffensive zone. But businesses also have the right to regulate behavior among co-workers and customers.

Goodell and Stern should ban the N-word from NFL and NBA workplaces. Customers don't need to hear Kevin Garnett shouting it on the court. Players don't need to bark it indiscriminately in the locker room. All of the locker room foolishness we've heard about the past two weeks, since the Incognito-Martin controversy, does not contribute to winning games. Teams that use the N-word across color lines do not have more locker room chemistry than teams that don't.

Banning the N-word in the workplace is not a threat to American freedom or a racist assault on black America. Remember eight years ago when people overreacted because Stern had the audacity to require his players to dress appropriately when coming to work? Taking off the white T's, do-rags, oversized jewelry and putting on business-casual attire was somehow defined as a racist plot hatched by Stern.

It wasn't. It was a wise business move. It was a continuation of Stern's responsibility to make the NBA more appealing to its customer base and corporate sponsors. Stern acted in the best interest of his players, a bunch of kids who think Jay Z is smarter about basketball than the commissioner is.

We love celebrity in this country. I love Charles Barkley. He's the star of my favorite sports TV show -- TNT's "Inside the NBA." He's a well-behaved Charlie Sheen. Barkley, 50, isn't paid to swim in the deep end of the pool. He's paid to be a humorous populist.

"This national debate that's going on right now," he said Thursday, "makes me uncomfortable that regular people try to act like they have the courage to play pro sports. They don't have that."

Regular people don't have the courage to play pro sports? Really?

This is my problem with some millionaire ex-jocks who come to believe that their perspective is superior to those who have not played on their level. Winning the genetics lottery and earning fame and fortune in America does not make a person an expert in their field, let alone an expert on topics outside their field. Fame and fortune foment self-delusion. They're the sworn enemy of self-awareness. The rich and the famous oftentimes reach the erroneous conclusion that they're rich and famous because they've made all the right decisions. (I use the N-word and I'm rich and famous, therefore, there's nothing wrong with using the N-word.) Luck is oftentimes the determining factor in American financial success. If Barkley had stopped growing at 5-foot-7, do you think he would've played in the NBA? If Barkley were a "regular" guy, do you think he would have had the courage to join the military and defend this country?

I'm a huge Barkley fan. But he doesn't remotely understand the complexity of the N-word issue. He gets paid millions of dollars to think about basketball and serve as a celebrity. Maintaining relevance as a celebrity requires retaining traction with young people. A star doesn't want to skew too old. When a star reaches middle age, there is pressure to adopt some of the sensibilities of the younger generation. It's uncool to sound like an old fuddy-duddy. The hipsters will accuse you of screaming "get off my lawn."

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