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The Worst Slurs in Sports, Ranked by Punishment

TAMPA, FL - OCTOBER 13: NFL referee Clete Blakeman signals a field goal as the Tampa Bay Buccaneers tosses a penalty flag during play against the Philadelphia Eagles October 13, 2013 at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Florida. The Eagles won 31 - 20. (Photo by Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images)
Photo: Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images

If the NFL has its way this off-season, use of the N-word by players will result in a 15-yard personal foul, with a second utterance warranting an ejection, independent of context. Player reactions have been mixed. Last week, Steelers safety Ryan Clark told ESPN, “I think it’s going to be really tough to legislate this rule, to find a way to penalize everyone who uses this word. And it’s not going to be white players using it toward black players. Most of the time you hear it, it’s black players using the word.” Hall of Fame linebacker Harry Carson supports the ban, arguing that there’s no difference between the word ending in a colloquial -a or harsh -er. Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman, meanwhile, questioned its focus: “It’s almost racist, to me. It’s weird they’re targeting one specific word. Why wouldn’t all curse words be banned then?”

Policing expression is rarely as simple as penalizing bigotry, as it was in the case of the original 28-game suspension and $20,000 fine the MLB slapped on the sultan of slur — the emperor of epithet — former Atlanta Brave John Rocker, who spewed hatred at pretty much every minority in 1999 (an arbitrator eventually slashed the sentence in half). Recently, French soccer player Nicholas Anelka received the minimum penalty of a five-game suspension and an 80,000 pound fine for his Nazi “quenelle” salute, despite his protestations that it was in reference to a comedian.

But how do professional sports leagues decide which slurs are worse than others, and therefore deserving of greater punishment? 2013 was a particularly bad year for bad words in sports: Athletes uttered epithets during games, as always, but their words increasingly permeated the public internet via Twitter, Instagram, and cell-phone videos, bringing greater scrutiny to the formal mechanisms pro sports leagues have in place to deal with them. Here’s how they’ve priced offensive speech in the past few years, ranked from mildest to most severe:

Making a bad racial joke = No penalty [PGA, 2013]

We will have him round every night. We will serve fried chicken.” —Golfer Sergio Garcia talking about Tiger Woods

Using an Indian slur on Twitter = No penalty [Australian Rugby League, 2013]

Curry munches” Australian rugby player Arana Taumata about the contestants of the reality TV series My Kitchen Rules

Directing a racially tinged insult at fan = $2,500 [ATP, 2013]

Putain chinoise” Tennis player Michael Llodra called a spectator this epithet which translates approximately to “Chinese whore”

Using a homophobic slur on Instagram = $10,000, probation and sensitivity training [NASCAR, 2013]

Fag” Driver Nelson Piquet Jr. to rival Parker Kligerman on the photo-sharing site

Tweeting a colloquial version of the N-word = $25,000 [NBA, 2013]

I love my teammates like family, but I’m DONE standing up for these niggas. All this shit does it cost me money!!” Los Angeles Clippers small forward Matt Barnes on Twitter

Insulting a fan with a homophobic slur = $50,000 [NBA, 2011]

Fuck you, faggot” Chicago Bulls forward Joakim Noah

Using the N-word, on free time = “a good amount of money” (undisclosed), no suspension [NFL, 2013]

I will jump that fence and fight every nigger here, bro.” Philadelphia Eagles Wide Receiver Riley Cooper caught on video at a Kenny Chesney concert

Using an N-word variant during a game, as an insult = $62,000 and an eight-game suspension [English Football Association, 2011]

Negrito” Liverpool striker Luis Suarez to Manchester United full-back Patrice Evra

Making a mildly homophobic joke to the press  = $75,000 [NBA, 2013]

No homo” Indiana Pacers center Roy Hibbert during a press conference. (He also said “motherfucker.”)

Painting a homophobic slur on one’s face = $98,037 (three-game suspension without pay) [MLB, 2012]

Tu ere maricón” Toronto Blue Jays shortstop Yunel Escobar, displayed the Spanish slur on his eye black during a game

Using a homophobic slur to insult a referee = $100,000 [NBA, 2011]

Fucking faggot” Los Angeles Lakers guard Kobe Bryant to official Bennie Adams

Making a Nazi salute = Ban for life from the national team [Hellenic Football Federation, 2013]

Heil Hitler” gesture Greek soccer player Giorgos Katidis, after his goal won a game

The Worst Slurs in Sports, Ranked by Punishment