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Public Affairs Quarterly


In 2014, the leadership of the National Football League instructed the league's game officials to penalize players who use the n-word on the field. The league's action sparked another installment of the long-running public debate over whether African Americans should use the n-word. The parties to the debate often adopt contrasting positions on whether African American athletes and celebrities are obligated morally not to use the term. This paper examines the most significant arguments, revealed by the public debate, in favor of such an obligation. By demonstrating that all of those arguments fail, I conclude that unless there is a sound argument for the obligation that I have overlooked, African American athletes and celebrities have no obligation that prohibits them from using the n-word.

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