Sky Sports to send emails to reporters containing list of prohibited and offensive phrases 

‘Nitty gritty’ on Sky Sports’ banned list of words due to supposed links to slavery as broadcaster orders commentators to avoid using language which may offend viewers in emails containing list of prohibited phrases

  • Sky Sports will warn reporters not to use words which may offend viewers
  • Staff members will be sent message containing list of prohibited phrases
  • Broadcaster will hold sessions with commentators to discuss language used 
  • Study has found ‘deep-rooted racial stereotypes’ are prominent in commentary

Sky Sports are drawing up a list of phrases they feel may offend – and are warning commentators not to use them.

Sportsmail understands that commentators and match reporters have been sent a number of emails with phrases which are deemed out of bounds, including one which told them not to say ‘nitty-gritty’ amid concerns over links to slavery.

The messages are part of an ongoing drive by the broadcaster to ensure that staff are aware of the origins of the language that they use while on air.

Sky Sports will semd a list of prohibited phrases to commentators and reporters this week


Today ‘nitty-gritty’ is used to signify the substance or basics or core of the matter, and the origin of the phrase is uncertain – but many consider its roots to be in the slave trade.

This theory suggests that the expression refers to the debris, such as lice and grit, left in the bottom of slave ships once the slaves have been removed from the hold after a long voyage.

Its use is banned in some institutions, such as the police force. 

Sky Sports holds sessions with presenters, reporters and commentators in which the importance of the language they use to describe athletes from different backgrounds is discussed.

In the light of the recent issues raised by the killing of George Floyd in the United States and the increased focus on racism it generated, they have put on extra sessions with the Professional Footballers’ Association and Kick it Out.

The broadcaster has concentrated on language used, especially when discussing stories and issues concerning the Black Lives Matter movement.

However, the emails have not gone down well with some members of staff. One claimed that they now faced ‘a complete minefield’ while on air, adding: ‘There are phrases that most people would have absolutely no idea would cause offence and that, to be frank, I’d be amazed if people were offended by. It’s making what is already a difficult job harder and it feels unnecessary.

‘There are obvious things that should not be said and I think everyone believes that education on these issues needs to be improved, but this feels like we are tripping over ourselves.’ 

The Black Lives Matter movement has encouraged broadcaster to dissect problematic phrases

The Black Lives Matter movement has encouraged broadcaster to dissect problematic phrases

Earlier this week, the PFA urged commentators to address their racial bias after a study revealed differences in how they describe players with different skin tones.

Findings revealed on Tuesday, following the first study of its kind in football, showed that ‘deep-rooted racial stereotypes’ are promoted in commentary. Player with lighter skin tone received significantly more praise for their intelligence, quality, work rate and versatility, while players with darker skin tones received at least 63 per cent of the criticism when it came to comments made about intelligence, quality and versatility.

The term ‘nitty-gritty’ is widely used and there is much debate over its origin. Some believe it originated as a term used by slave traders to refer to the detritus left after a slave ship was emptied, although this is disputed.

Last month, Dundee city council said it would review ‘slave traders’ language in council chambers, such as the phrase ‘nitty-gritty’.