Football Zebras
Outside the StripesWashington retires team name that was once a factor in officiating assignments

Washington retires team name that was once a factor in officiating assignments

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The NFL’s Washington franchise has officially retired their team name, which will take effect when a new team name is decided. In use for 87 seasons, the name controversy also had a small effect on which officials worked which games.

Referee Mike Carey took issue with the team and requested to officiating vice president Mike Pereira to steer his game assignments away. There are several do-not-schedule requests that are in effect at any given time, sometimes due to a controversial call, proximity to an official’s home, or even a family relationship. This was an unusual request, but one that was granted to defer to Carey’s strong convictions. Although known in officiating circles for years, it did not become public until after Carey retired from the NFL in 2014 in an interview with the Washington Post.

It just became clear to me that to be in the middle of the field, where something disrespectful is happening, was probably not the best thing for me.  Human beings take social stances.  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.

Carey’s last assignment for the team came in 2006 when they hosted the Minnesota Vikings in Week 1, after finishing the 2005 season working their wild card playoff game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, according to Pro Football Reference.

Did Carey think his objection to the disparaging team name affected his impartiality? I highly doubt it. But, he was resolute in his stance long before others raised their objections, and this was from a league employee, no less.

Football Zebras also made a concerted effort to avoid using the epithet in 2013 (and eliminated from assignment posts in 2014). This was not to be an activist or to enforce political correctness. Rather, it was a recognition that, as communicators, we always choose our words carefully to convey our messages. Personally, I felt that no one obligates me to write any words under my byline. By that same token, all of our writers were free to make individual choices on using the name. Some readers voiced their displeasure, but were also under no obligation to read our words.

The name continued to be used in assignment lists and liveblog posts through the 2013 season, initially to maintain consistency and to make the change subtle. After one season, I determined the awkwardness was not my doing, but by the team owner and the league. The indexer of my book So You Think You Know Football even found a way to list the team which I had not mentioned by name.

I realize this is a hard obstacle for many determined fans, but I believe the team has finally made the correct decision that will be borne out by history.

Let me use this opportunity to place my vote for the Washington Admirals.

Ben Austro
Ben Austro is the editor and founder of Football Zebras and the author of So You Think You Know Football?: The Armchair Ref's Guide to the Official Rules (on sale now)

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