ESPN to Air ‘Outside the Lines’ Special Report on ‘The N-Word’ Sunday (Exclusive)

ESPN to Air 'Outside the Lines' Special Report on 'The N-Word' Sunday (Exclusive)

The one-hour special welcomes debate from famous rappers and athletes

The N-word.

Do we have your attention? Good, because that's what ESPN is going for on Sunday evening, when they air a one-hour “Outside the Lines” special report on what is arguably the English language's ugliest word.

To cast the special roundtable discussion, which is part of the network's Black History Month programming, Rob King, senior vice president of “SportsCenter” and News, had to dig deep into ESPN's pre-vetting to find out who is willing to speak out on the polarizing topic. What he came up with, was a panel spanning music, TV, media, academics and sports.

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“OTL” staple Bob Ley will host the special, with guests set to appear either in-studio or via satellite. Guests include: Rapper Common (also a semi-regular ESPN contributor), Dr. Richard Lapchick, UCF College of Business Administration Faculty, and Pittsburgh Steelers player, Ryan Clark.

Also popping up on the live show will be ESPN columnist Jason Whitlock and ESPN personality/writer Jemele Hill, who named the N-word ”Person of Year” in a recent piece. Byron Pitts of ABC News, and TJ Quinn from “OTL”, will appear in pre-recorded segments. Chauncey Billups, Briana Scurry, Mean Joe Green and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar will appear in produced pieces.

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The intent behind the special report is not solely to attract ratings. (ESPN already does quite well in that regard, and “OTL” is the highly-respected, DuPont Award-winning investigative journalism leg of The Worldwide Leader.)

The goal, as Ley tells TheWrap, is to “have an honest conversation about this word, which is on the third rail of American society.” He added: “We're going to try and bring this to American living rooms, and American dorm rooms and American bar rooms and American dinner tables in a way where maybe it hasn't [been].”

Ley specifically called attention to Common‘s pre-recorded piece, calling it “Three of the most powerful minutes of television I've ever been associated with.” He added, “There is a tremendous reveal at the end of it that is just beyond words.”

Both the topic and the word often come up on a variety of playing fields, in addition to casting shadows over the culture that permeates young athletes. Recent ESPN headlines involving the taboo word include those made by Philadelphia Eagles wide receiver Riley Cooper, who was caught on tape at a concert using the word in a threatening manner. Former Miami Dolphins player Richie Incognito also openly used the word — among other offensive terms – in what became a very public team dismissal for “bullying” fellow teammate, Jonathan Martin.

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The special on the N-word was originally intended to be of the Town Hall variety, airing on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, but scheduling did not fit that particular format. King believes that the Sunday night Black History Month timeslot leaves the socially conscious program “better off,” adding that the serendipitous change resulted in a “more vibrant time” to have discussion than on Dr. King's birthday.

“This is a very important, but very incendiary issue,” King told TheWrap. “It involves a lot of care. It would be far easier not to do the show,” he concluded.

The one-hour “Outside the Lines Special Report: The N-word” airs Sunday, Feb. 23 on ESPN at 7 p.m., ET.

Watch a 90-second teaser from a pre-recorded portion, where Teaneck (N.J.) High School student-athletes discuss what the word means to them, exclusive to TheWrap:

  • BlackCanseco

    Only with Black People do we expect Athletes and Musicians to speak for the entire community…SMH. I guess since the guy who can dunk and the guy who can rhyme say everyone should say it, then I best fall in line. SMH.

  • KC

    Interesting show. I was wondering why there has never been a discussion like this on taking the Lord's name in vain. Maybe if we worried more about how damaging it is to do that we would be able to solve this issue on the N word.

  • KC

    The fact that this discussion is taking place proves to me that the use of the N word no matter the context it is used. It is wrong. If speach hurts no matter the word it should not be used.

  • Daniel Watson

    Look people this debate has to stop. How can we evolve in so many areas, and have this same debate. If everything is based on foundations. How can people ignore that the etymology of the N word is God, King, and Queen. It became what it became after Roman influence and invasion of Africa. Then it became nigger. Before it was ngr.The fact that the word isn't discussed based upon the true derivation is a sad use of intellect. I guess talking about history particularly black history only starts with slavery. #dontdisrespectresearchingtruth

  • Mikie

    Having a show on a subject that will never change the mind of many. We have not evolved too much when we still talk about the “N” word after all these years. So much for change. Same song, different verse and the same result. No matter how far society has come, somethings will never change. That’ just the way it. Because if they did, would ESPN need a 60 minute OTL special on the “N” word?

  • Mr smarty pants

    The N-word is wrong to use BUT,, and yes there is a BUT,,every group has a word that they use which can only be used within that group right?
    a woman can say to her friend hey bitch.. it's ok right? a gay person can say to there gay friend shut up u fag,,,, and it's ok right? the word NIGGER was developed out of pure hatred and Anger and blacks were less likely to be bothered as a group of African Americans in public if a white man from the south heard blacks calling each other the word..
    black people developed a softer way to use the word in the south and throughout America but more socially in the south were it was developed .. The use of the word got out of hand being used,, and stayed stuck in the African American vocabulary.
    Remember white people if your buddy told you that your neighbor was a sex offender, I can almost guarantee u would hate his guts,, never talk to him,, and probably want to kill that's neighbor but until you really get to know all about that neighbor don't be so ignorant to believe what someone else is saying about them.
    Not knowing something is ignorance which is the true meaning of the word.

  • J.T. Thomas

    Racism is America is very covert and race trumps every aspect of life. American history doesn't teach matters of race and the magnitude of the “N” word. Thus, every African-American born after 1975 should be required to have a minor degree in African American history. We have not overcome and we haven't arrived. Marginalizing the “N” word is analogous to saying that the KKK means Kool Kolored Kats…

  • O Solloway

    The N Word now belongs exclusively to the descendants of American slavery. They have the exclusive right and reason to shape its usage. Any whites who find that “offensive” need to be reminded of the historical and original “OFFENSE.” … remember who created the N word and against whom it was directed.

  • Jimco

    I'm white born in 1961, live in the South, have I ever used the N word, guilty. Not saying it makes it right, but when you grow up in the South, your family and your friends family you grow up with said it, so you just say what you learn. As you grow up you realize it's wrong, but where I grew up a small Texas town was majority black and you hear blacks calling each other it, but you know your not black, and shouldn't feel that you have the right to use it. I have a black friend that I went to school with, then we worked together for 26 years, he started calling me the N word, cutting up joking, talking trash, back and forth because were guys and we just had fun at work like that, so have I ever said it back to him in joking or trash talking back yes I have. We're friends and even thought we don't work together anymore we talk almost every week. Of course it was usually between us and private, but let me say this for those that do not know that a Man's Locker Room is what it is, whether it is a Sports Team or just a normal every day working man, we cut up, talk trash, call each other names, and yes there are gay slurs. But you know who you can do it to and who doesn't take it well, or carry on like you do, so you respect them and you Do NOT Include Them in that type of talk.