The National Football League announced yesterday that it has suspended referee Roy Ellison without pay for one game in response to a deprecatory comment made to Trent Williams. The exchange occurred during last Sunday’s match between the Philadelphia Eagles and the Washington Redskins.
Witnesses reported that the brief but heated argument began when Williams swore at Ellison after a call with which he disagreed. The officiant responded by calling the left tackle “disrespectful” within a decorous line of phrasing that indicated the extent to which Ellison failed to appreciate the input. That was the end of it on the field, but the issue came to light for the public in a locker-room interview following the game.
While offering a disheartened account of what he thought went wrong during Washington’s loss, Williams enumerated to reporters his assessment that the “refs were getting into their heads” during the game and recounted the foul language offered by Ellison. The six-foot-five, 325-lb. tackle claimed that his feelings were hurt by the referee and that the derogatory slurs contributed to a lack of focus on the field. A minor uproar followed when a local television sports reporter tweeted the remark and other players began to step forward to corroborate.
Teammate Kory Lichtensteiger confirmed overhearing the offensive language and added that he had been miked at the time. The NFL has since reviewed the audio and discovered that Ellison had indeed hurled the epithets at Williams. However, there was no evidence to verify Williams’ role in goading the official. The summary result was a suspension announcement for Ellison and no discipline for Wiiliams.
The National Football League Referees Association (NFLRA) immediately threw a metaphorical flag. Shortly after the NFL announced its decision to proceed with disciplinary measures against Ellison, the NFLRA released a statement claiming that the NFL had jumped to unfavorable conclusions despite conducting a week-long investigation. The statement further indicated an intention to file a grievance with the NFL to challenge the suspension; although the dispute will likely not be resolved in time to get Ellison back on the field this weekend, a successful challenge would recoup his lost pay.
As Ellison rides the bench, his place will be filled by Rich Hall. Hall was recalled from a week’s vacation in order to fill the void on the officiating roster and may himself have some choice words for the suspended referee.
The events of the last week are not the first time that Ellison has been called to the carpet for his on-field behavior. Mike Pereira, former Vice-President of Officiating for the National Football League, mentioned Monday that during his tenure he had a discussion with Ellison about accusations of similar behavior. No proof had ever been recorded, however, and the referee was let off with a stern finger-wagging.
This is also not the first time that a Redskin has complained about an officiant’s behavior after a loss. Last season, cornerback DeAngelo Hall was tossed out of a matchup against the Steelers after dressing down a referee. He later explained on a local sports talk radio program that the official was giving as good as he got and had been escalating the confrontation. Adding injury to insult, Hall was smacked with a fine for his behavior while no action was taken against the referee.
There is a novel aspect to the recent debacle, however. Ellison’s suspension represents the first time in 29 years that a National Football League referee has been suspended. The last incident was in 1984, when Jack Fette got into an argument with some overly enthusiastic fans.
By Daniel Annear