ARS - The North American Scrabble Players Association (NASPA) seems poised to remove hundreds of offensive slurs from tournament-level Scrabble play. The proposed move is part of an effort by the group to "support Black Lives Matter and bring justice to our world," as organization CEO John Chew put it in a recent newsletter.
But after weeks of debate, NASPA's 12-person advisory board hasn't yet officially voted on the proposal to ban over 200 offensive slurs and variations from tournament play. That vote is set for later this week.
NASPA members have been discussing the proposed slur removal in a private Facebook group for weeks, with fervent arguments on both sides of the issue. Those arguing for keeping the words in the game generally feel that, in the context of Scrabble, these words are merely "strings of letters" that get converted to in-game points, completely divorced from any meaning they may have in the real world.
"The spoken word can be offensive," Connecticut player Benjamin Bloom said in an interview with Slate, but "a random string of tiles on a 15-by-15 Scrabble board should never offend anyone."
Some also argued that playing offensive words can make tournament players "look like a group of rude bigots" to casual viewers or passersby that might view the game board. That's what happened in 2010, when a Cleveland area newspaper had to write an apology after using a photograph of a board from a local tournament containing a slur. Players in tournaments broadcast on ESPN have also been asked to avoid playing offensive words in the past.
I find this absolutely fascinating for so many reasons. First of all, the fact there is a Scrabble Player union is unreal. How do I get into the North American Scrabble Players Association? What an unreal job. Does it pay to be the president of NAPSA? Seems like a perfect guest for Eddie on Dog Walk, pro Scrabble player.
And along those lines, the fact they have been negotiating about removing slurs from play for 2 weeks in a private Facebook group "with feverent arguments on both sides of the issue". That's the most Facebook thing I've ever heard. A bunch of mid-40 year old Scrabble virgins laying out the pros and cons of banning racial slurs from official Scrabble tournaments.
On one hand, they are racial slurs. Decent point. On the other hand, "a random string of tiles on a 15 by 15 Scrabble board should never offend anyone". And that's where the fascination comes in. I don't want to get too much into it, but it's sort of the discussion that's been going on the last 2 weeks with the rapping of the Ja Rule lyric, the intent of racism vs something being inherently racist. I don't think you can argue that just because it's tiles in a board game it's ok to spell out the N word, but his point is the tiles themselves have no meaning, your only objective is to score the most amount of points using the tiles available.
But I agree that it's overall a bad look for the NASPA to use those words. Think of the casual Scrabble viewer, you know? I think it's fair to suggest the Scrabble pros go without dropping hard C bombs on a triple letter score. How else is Scrabble going to remain the world's 3rd biggest sport if they don't get rid of hatred and bigotry?
I am curious where the line is though. A lot of words have double meanings. Is "pussy" passable? What about "bitch"? And where do we sit on "cock"? I tell you what, while I'm glad they are finally cleaning up the game, it will make life harder for a lot of these pros. We will see who adapts and who falls behind. Should be a great 2021 season.