ASHBURN, Va. (AP) — An NFL game official was suspended Friday for one game without pay for making “a profane and derogatory statement” to a Washington Redskins player, an incident that has led to a call for NFL players to stop using the N-word on the field and in the locker room.
The league announced Friday that umpire Roy Ellison will not work an NFL game this weekend as punishment for words directed at left tackle Trent Williams late in the second quarter of the Redskins’ loss to the Philadelphia Eagles on Sunday.
The National Football League Referees Association issued a statement Friday evening saying that it will file a grievance, that the suspension was a rush to judgment without hearing Ellison’s side of the story.
Williams said he was called vulgar names — although not the N-word — by Ellison and did nothing to provoke it. A replay from the second quarter shows Ellison gesturing at Williams while walking backward just before a snap, with Williams, quarterback Robert Griffin III and tight end Niles Paul turning to look back at the umpire. Redskins coach Mike Shanahan was among those who supported Williams, saying: “You just can’t use that type of language to get your point across.”
But John Wooten, chairman of the Fritz Pollard Alliance, group that includes minority coaches and officials, said his organization spoke to game officials who said that Ellison was responding after Williams directed the N-word at Ellison. Both Williams and Ellison are African-American. The incident, coming in the wake of allegations involving racially charged texts allegedly sent by Richie Incognito to a Miami Dolphins teammate, led the alliance to issue a statement imploring all NFL players to stop using the racial slur.
“I think that we all understand clearly that in terms of supporting Roy, we’re not in any way condoning his reaction to what happened,” Wooten told The Associated Press. “There’s no question in our mind what provoked all of this, that there was a disrespectful communication going on between Trent and an Eagle player. They were using the N-word along with all other type of profanity, and the N-word is what caused Roy to say, ‘Hey, you need to be more respectful.'”
Wooten, 76, said Williams then directed the profanity at Ellison.
“There is no question in my mind that Trent said this to Roy, and I don’t question that,” said Wooten, who noted that he has not spoken to Ellison directly. “And that’s what, with Incognito and all this stuff and the N-word and how it’s used in the locker room, that caused us to say, ‘Hey, let’s put an end to this.'”
Wooten, who played nine seasons in the NFL with the Cleveland Browns and Redskins, said Ellison should have thrown a flag on Williams instead of escalating the exchange.
In announcing the suspension, the NFL said that “game officials are expected to avoid personal confrontations with players and be respectful of players and coaches at all times.”
Michael Arnold, NFLRA legal counsel, said Ellison is an accomplished 11-year veteran who is highly respected.
“The NFL imposed its judgment upon him without consideration of all the facts,” Arnold said. “The decision was arbitrary and unjustified and will be challenged with an immediate grievance.”
Jim Quirk, NFLRA executive director, said the “NFL’s decision to suspend Mr. Ellison creates a double standard for what is acceptable on field conduct.” He and Arnold cited the league’s decision to take no action against Williams.
“The League insists that officials are held to a ‘high standard’ but others involved in the game are held to no standard,” Quick added. “Apparently the NFL accepts and condones a culture where players, coaches and teams can use racial slurs and profanity toward each other and at officials.
“Music played in locker rooms and in the stadiums before games include racial slurs (including the “N” word) and references to sexual violence with impunity. These types of cheap slurs and racial banter on the field often lead to angry and emotional responses which can result in fighting and injury. This is completely contrary to the atmosphere of sportsmanship and respect the league says should exist in the game.”
Williams, 25, said on Wednesday he didn’t expect the league to punish Ellison, saying the NFL would “probably sweep it under the rug.” He also reiterated that he did not say anything provocative to Ellison.
“If I said something of that nature to him, it’s at least a flag, or I’m thrown out of the game,” Williams said. “I’d never say anything like that to a referee.”
Said Wooten: “I know that Trent has said he didn’t say that. If that’s what he wants to live with, he can live with that.”