clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

NFL referee avoided Washington games for 8 years over name controversy

Former NFL referee Mike Carey revealed he was allowed to avoid Washington games for eight years due to his objections to the team's name. He joins a growing list of NFL and media personalities who will refuse to use the name this season.

If you buy something from an SB Nation link, Vox Media may earn a commission. See our ethics statement.

Dilip Vishwanat

Many have come out against the "Redskins" name, though perhaps none were as closely associated with the NFL as longtime referee Mike Carey. Now a CBS rules analyst, Carey revealed to the Washington Post that he had avoided Washington home and away games for eight years because he found the team's moniker offensive.

Carey, who retired from refereeing after the 2013 season, had last worked a game for Washington during the 2006 playoffs when the team took on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. After that game, the NFL granted a request that he never work a Washington game again.

"when you learn there's something that might not be as respectful as you like, you have to do something about it."

That the NFL sided with Carey is somewhat surprising given the league's normally deaf stance toward controversial subjects. Carey said he never spoke with commissioner Roger Goodell about his request, and only approached the person in charge of assigning games to officials, whom he refused to name.

Carey had established himself as one of the most well-respected referees in football. In 2008, an ESPN poll of NFL coaches named him and Ed Hochuli the two best refs in the league. He cited his upbringing when asked to explain why he requested to be recused:

"In America, we've learned that respect is the most important thing that you have. I learned it from my parents, my schools, from my faith. And when you learn there's something that might not be as respectful as you like, when you come to terms with it, you have to do something about it."

Carey joins a growing list of media and football personalities who refuse to use the Washington team name. Phil Simms and Tony Dungy both recently said that they would avoid saying "Redskins" during broadcasts. Monday Night Football commentator Mike Tirico has omitted the moniker during broadcasts in the past, though he hasn't taken a public stance on the name.

Mike Carey

Photo credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Last year, MMQB founder Peter King explained why he would stick to writing "Washington" from that point forward:

The simple reason is that for the last two or three years, I've been uneasy when I sat down to write about the team and had to use the nickname. In some stories I've tried to use it sparingly. But this year, I decided to stop entirely because it offends too many people, and I don't want to add to the offensiveness. Some people, and some Native American organizations-such as the highly respected American Indian Movement-think the nickname is a slur. Obviously, the team feels it isn't a slur, and there are several prominent Native American leaders who agree. But I can do my job without using it, and I will.

The subject will continue to be controversial in tight NFL circles, particularly as other important figures in the sport make their opinions known. Mike Ditka -- now in the Hall of Fame for exploits as a player, coach and broadcaster -- recently had harsh words for those who believe the name should be changed. Via his interview with

"What's all the stink over the Redskin name?" Ditka said. "It's so much [expletive] it's incredible. We're going to let the liberals of the world run this world. It was said out of reverence, out of pride to the American Indian. Even though it was called a Redskin, what are you going to call them, a Brownskin?

"This is so stupid it's appalling, and I hope that owner keeps fighting for it and never changes it, because the Redskins are part of an American football history, and it should never be anything but the Washington Redskins. That's the way it is."

Washington could be forced to change its team name soon. This past June, the United States Patent and Trademark Office denied the team registration of the term "Redskins" because it found the name to be "disparaging to Native Americans." The ruling removes the team's control of the brand and, essentially, allows anyone to use the name for commercial gain. As a result, Washington stands to lose substantial revenue from selling licensed merchandise.

The ruling has yet to take effect while Washington and team owner Dan Snyder appeal the decision. In 2003, a similar decision reached in 1999 by the U.S. PTO was overturned, though the 1999 decision was felled, in part, by legal idiosyncrasies that might not apply to the 2014 decision.