ORLANDO – John Wooten called Wednesday's emphatic crackdown on eliminating abusive and racially-charged taunting "a tremendous victory for the league."
"It is going to change the culture," Wooten, chairman of the Fritz Pollard Alliance that monitors the league's diversity policies, told USA TODAY Sports. "I applaud Jeff Fisher, Rich McKay, Ozzie Newsome and the rest of the competition committee for stepping up. The young guys coming into the league are going to know they can't call each other the N-word. It's another form of bullying.
Owners approved the competition committee's call for an over-arching enforcement of existing unsportsmanlike penalty rules to combat a vile trend that has risen on the field and came to light in the Miami Dolphins locker room during last season's Jonathan Martin bullying scandal.
Wooten said the incident that spurred his Fritz Pollard Alliance to write a letter to the competition committee to clean up the game stems from a November Philadelphia Eagles-Washington Redskins game when Redskins left tackle Trent Williams was accused of a racial epithet directed at umpire Roy Ellison, who is also African-American. Williams denied the charge.
Wooten said because Ellison reacted by yelling an expletive at Williams instead of throwing a flag for an unsportsmanlike penalty, the umpire was suspended for one game.
"If you talk to officials or (vice president of officials) Dean Blandino, the disrespect runs rampant out there," Wooten said. "It's horrible. Taunting calls have escalated."
"We're going to clean the game up on the field between the players – the in-your-face taunting, those type of things, the language," committee member and St. Louis Rams coach Jeff Fisher said. "We're going to raise the standard…We are going to affect change immediately as early as the OTAs when players come back.
"We've got to change our conduct on the field. We've got to bring the element of respect to the highest level back to our game."
It will take more than 15-yard penalties to turn the tide of nine taunting calls in 2012 to 34 calls last season.
Change isn't easy. But it starts not with officials, but with coaches and locker-room leaders changing behavior the way Wooten did as the former Philadelphia Eagles pro personnel director with a young linebacker named Ray Farmer. The new general manager of the Cleveland Browns is grateful Wooten schooled him early on.
"I was lucky that John was big on making sure guys understood the meaning of that word -- that it wasn't rooted in endearment or feel good," Farmer told USA TODAY Sports. "He would pull you aside in practice and I learned early on from him why not to use it."
Now Farmer and his peers will follow Wooten's lead in raising consciousness for a younger generation.
"The general managers and the coaches are going to tell their players during OTAs in May, 'This behavior is out. We don't want this kind of penalty called against us,'" said Wooten, a former Browns guard from 1959-1967. "There's nothing we can do about the music industry and so forth.
"But by eliminating this culture of disrespect among our younger players, what you'll see in the NFL, the colleges, high schools and the Pop Warner level that this is a great victory for us."