As It Happens

'The N-word has no place in our game': Competitive Scrabble player wants slurs removed from play

The head of the North American Scrabble Players Association says racial slurs should be removed from the board game's competitive play.

More that 200 offensive words were removed from the Scrabble Dictionary, but are playable in competition

John Chew has been playing Scrabble competitively for years. Now he's calling for changes to competitive Scrabble tournament word lists. (Submitted by John Chew)

The head of the North American Scrabble Players Association says racial slurs should be removed from the board game's competitive play.

"I think it reflects poorly on competitive Scrabble players that they accept the use of words [that], in any other context, would be a hate crime, and that they pretend that the words have no meaning when they're playing a game, just so that they can score a few extra points" John Chew, CEO of NASPA, told As It Happens host Carol Off.

"I think the N-word has no place in our game."

This story was originally reported by the Globe and Mail.

Chew says he suggested the removal of the offensive words after a NASPA member asked if there was something the association could do to support Black members in light of recent worldwide Black Lives Matter demonstrations.

In 1994, Hasbro Inc., the maker of Scrabble, agreed to remove offensive words from the Official Scrabble Players Dictionary after a player complained.

However, some competitive players objected to their removal, leading to a separate word list being created for club and competition play.

In total, 238 offensive words are included in the current NASPA lexicon, ranging from scatological terms to racial slurs.

Chew's letter has garnered more than 1,000 responses and the issue is currently being reviewed by the semi-elected NASPA Advisory Board. 

Chew penned a letter to his association asking for racial slurs to be removed from the list of acceptable Scrabble words for tournaments and clubs. (Submitted by John Chew)

Some members argue in favour of keeping the offensive words and question where to draw the line, while others say there is no malicious intent behind the words.

"In the game, the context is different than in interpersonal relationships. I understand the other point of view. I think it comes from a place of respect. I just think it's problematic," NASPA member Frank Tangredi said. 

Tangredi, a New York-based playwright, penned a response to the NASPA Advisory Board arguing that by deciding which words are offensive, the organization risks missing some words, and therefore should avoid the issue altogether.

"I think this would open up a can of worms," he wrote. "No matter where you draw the line, there are words that people will think should be on one side of the line or other."

Still, he says, any player who actually utters a targeted slur against another player should face disciplinary action. 

But Chew says he wants competitive play to be more inclusive, and that starts with removing slurs from competitive play.

"When we play a slur, we are declaring that our desire to score points in a word game is of more value to us than the slur's broader function as a way to oppress a group of people," he wrote on the association's website

The NASPA review board is expected to make a decision next week.

Written by Lito Howse. Interview with John Chew produced by Jeanne Armstrong. 

Add some “good” to your morning and evening.

A variety of newsletters you'll love, delivered straight to you.

Sign up now