By Ellie Silverman
Imagine being called “the n-word” at the young age of nine. That was a reality for Chloe Pavlech, a sophomore broadcast journalism major and point guard for the women’s basketball team. She was competing in a basketball game and thankfully her coach stepped in before the situation could escalate any further.
“When I told my coach, I knew what the ‘N-word’ meant but it didn’t really register. It still hurt just the way the girl said it,” Pavlech said.
Pavlech has been playing basketball since she was five years old and thinks of her team as her family. During her time at the University of Maryland she has never had another experience similar to the one she described.
This past summer, Riley Cooper, a wide receiver for the Philadelphia Eagles, was caught on tape using the ‘N-word’ at a Kenny Chesney concert. Cooper’s racial slur started a discussion about the type of example athletes and other role models set for those who look up to them. It also demonstrated how thoughtlessly insensitive behavior can adversely affect teammates and fans, tarnishing the role models reputation.
“Riley Cooper may never earn the trust of his teammates again,” Zach Kancher, Director of Scouting and Player Development for the women’s basketball team, said. “Students and kids need to be cognizant of the words that they’re using in the environment they are using them in.”
The goal of the Inclusive Language Campaign is to raise awareness of the words we use and their effect on others. Although some phrases are used colloquially they are offensive to many people.
“You have to take [for] granted that everyone is different and we just have to respect that in terms of when we talk to them. It’s not just about ourselves,” said Tierney Pfirman, a sophomore early childhood education major and guard for the women’s basketball team.
When Pavlech was younger she used the word “retarded” without a second thought. Once she said it around a friend who told her that she had a handicapped brother, she realized how offensive the word can be to someone else.
“Since then I’ve never used it again in my life because I understand the context and there are so many other words you can use that are more appropriate,” said Pavlech.
Some people may not take offense to these words, but many student athletes expressed the importance of the context the phrases are used in.
“It depends who actually says it and if a friend is saying it or if they are trying to be mean,” Maren Knudsen, a freshman from Norway enrolled in letters and sciences who plays midfield for the women’s soccer team, said.
However, Knudsen said that she does not hear offensive language on the field because “everything is so intense when you are playing.”
Pfirman’s experience on the court is very similar. “We’re told not to pay attention to the other team when they talk. You just hear words, you don’t really take anything [in],” she said.
Athletes are taught to respect their teammates, coaches, opponents and peers. Deborah Milani, a freshman on the women’s lacrosse team, said, “I think everyone has the right to be treated fairly no matter what race you are.”
Student athletes look to their coaches for guidance. When a coach instills the value of respect within the team, the players become more cognizant of what language is appropriate.
Kancher explained how the women’s basketball team promotes these lessons. “Everybody has a different background and you never know what’s occurred in somebody’s life, [or] what occurred in a family member’s life. Our players are very respectful of each other’s backgrounds and who they are. There is a concentrated effort to make sure words like that aren’t thrown around,” she said.