How an NFL Referee Took a Stance Against a Team’s Racist Name

Former NFL referee Mike Carey
Jeff Gross/Getty Images
Former NFL referee Mike Carey
Jeff Gross/Getty Images

How do you judge a man with conviction? Not just one with beliefs, but one who supports his beliefs with action?

Martin Luther King Jr., organizing followers who stood firm in their fight for civil rights, no matter the odds or violence they faced. Malcolm Little, evolving from “Detroit Red” to Malcolm X, preaching about inequality and separatism and then embracing brotherhood through diversity. Principal Joe Clark and coach Ken Carter, fighting for the education of students who would otherwise be neglected by the system. Bo Schembechler, firing Bill Frieder and giving Steve Fisher the reins as head coach of Michigan’s basketball team in the 1989 Men’s NCAA Basketball Tournament because he wanted a Michigan man at the helm, not someone who was leaving the program.

These were men of conviction, whose faith, morals and beliefs enabled them to stand firm in the face of criticism, opposition and violence. They were willing to fight for what they believed was right, and their eventual success validated their rationale.

This week we learned of another man of conviction, one who quietly stood against racism without the general masses recognizing it.


Mike Carey, a former NFL referee and now a rules analyst for CBS’ NFL game-day show, had privately taken a stand against the burgundy and gold from Washington, D.C. For the last eight years Carey, the first black head referee to officiate a Super Bowl, and one of the best officials in the game (according to a 2008 poll of coaches conducted by ESPN), had refused to officiate Washington games or even use the term “Redskins.”

In an interview with Mike Wise of the Washington Post, Carey stated, “I’ve called them Washington all my life. And I will continue to call them Washington.”

His stance was a profound example of conviction, yet one that went unnoticed by the general masses. But like the great leaders mentioned previously, Carey would not let money or the bright lights sway his firm position regarding the derogatory term employed by the team from the nation’s capital.

“Human beings take social stances,” Carey told Wise. “And if you’re respectful of all human beings, you have to decide what you’re going to do and why you’re going to do it.”


Muhammad Ali refused to fight in the Vietnam War, which resulted in his being stripped of his heavyweight title and becoming a target of hatred and venom from many. As with Ali, Carey’s quiet refusal to work a game involving the burgundy and gold would not be broken.

Read more at the Shadow League.

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