The new rule is being pushed by the Fritz Pollard Alliance – a group formed to promote diversity in the NFL. Chairman John Wooten is confident that change is forthcoming.
But, from the perspective of the officiating crew, Orem said that might be more difficult to achieve - at least enforce - than one would expect.
Orem, whose long NFL resume includes Super Bowl and Pro Bowl assignments, said he would actually have to hear – and see – a player utter words in violation of the rules before tossing a flag. But at times it’s impossible to hear exactly what someone said, or to determine who said something you've heard. Stadiums do get loud.
Then again how is an official to rule when hearing language that is deemed unacceptable by the league but that isn't used maliciously? Orem said he’s heard instances of one player congratulating another on an outstanding play and using the N-word. What do officials do if the word is used by someone who is African-American, as two-thirds of the NFL's players are?
Or how is an official to react to an argument like the one Orem witnessed in a Chicago Bears playoff game where Coach Mike Ditka and injured quarterback Jim McMahon got into a profanity-infused exchange about whether McMajon would reenter the game. There wasn’t a profane name they didn’t call each other, he recalled.
Further, enforcing the rule puts an extra burden on officials closest to the line of scrimmage, Orem said. Back judges, who see more one-on-one action, probably won’t catch as many flare-ups where taunts ensue and fights break out.
Any rule must carry the full support of all 32 teams – including owners, general managers and coaches - to be enforceable.
That said, Orem believes change won’t come easily.
“I think it is going to be difficult,” he said.
Pro football is a game where players always look for an advantage - if not by bone-crushing tackle then by verbal intimidation.
Tom Lindley is a CNHI sports columnist. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.