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Racial-slur incidents drop sharply with NFL’s ban in place

PHOENIX – The number of reported on-field incidents involving the use of racial slurs and other forms of abusive language declined sharply this season after the NFL enacted a ban on their use.

According to figures given by league officials to the Fritz Pollard Alliance, a diversity group that works closely with the NFL on its minority hiring practices, there were six reported incidents this season of the on-field use of slurs. That was down from 29 documented incidents, as reported to the league by game officials, during the 2013 season.

John Wooten, the chairman of the Fritz Pollard Alliance, said the group was given those figures by the league at the annual meeting between the two sides in December.

“I think it says very clearly that the players understand the gravity of what we’re trying to do,” Wooten said. “I think the clubs and everyone else are to be congratulated. The key thing here is we’re talking about respect. It’s about respect and dignity. Ideally it should be zero. But it’s headed in the right direction.”

The NFL declined to comment through a spokesman.

The NFL, at the urging of the Fritz Pollard Alliance, banned the on-field use of racial and homophobic slurs and other offensive language by players, coaches and other personnel this season. The league implemented its ban by utilizing existing rules for what constitutes unsportsmanlike conduct, saying that the use of such language would result in a 15-yard penalty.

The Fritz Pollard Alliance made its push for the league to enact the ban last offseason in part because of an incident last season involving Washington Redskins offensive tackle Trent Williams.

The Fritz Pollard Alliance and the NFL Referees Association accused Williams of directing a racial slur at an official, umpire Roy Ellison, during a game against the Philadelphia Eagles. Williams denied using a slur and was not disciplined by the league.

The NFL announced in November 2013 that it had suspended Ellison for one game for making a profane and derogatory statement to Williams as part of the incident. The Fritz Pollard Alliance acknowledged at the time that Ellison had directed a profanity at Williams but maintained that did not excuse Williams’s conduct.

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WASHINGTON POST-BLOOMBERG–01-27-15 1622EDT