The NFL announced Friday it suspended umpire Roy Ellison for one game without pay for making a profane and derogatory remark to Washington Redskins offensive lineman Trent Williams during last Sunday against the Philadelphia Eagles.
The NFL issued a statement on its code of conduct for officials: "NFL game officials are expected to avoid personal confrontations with players and be respectful of players and coaches at all times. The NFL-NFLRA collective bargaining agreement states that 'at no time will a game official engage in any conduct which adversely affects or reflects on the NFL or which results in the impairment of public confidence in the honest and orderly conduct of league games or the integrity or good character of its game officials."
Williams said Ellison walked by him after a play and called him a "garbage-ass, disrespectful (expletive)."
The NFL Referees Association denounced the decision. In a statement released Friday night, the NFLRA accused Williams of speaking to Ellison abusively and using a racial slur.
"Roy Ellison is an accomplished 11-year veteran who is highly respected," said Michael Arnold, the NFLRA's legal counsel. "The NFL imposed its judgment upon him without consideration of all the facts. The decision was arbitrary and unjustified and will be challenged with an immediate grievance."
Teammates supported Williams' claim.
Williams said he was not sure why Ellison made those comments to him.
According to John Wooten of the Fritz Pollard Alliance, a group formed to promote diversity in hiring in the NFL, Williams was accused of using a racial slur toward Ellison, allegedly reported by other players.
"We haven't talked to Roy," Wooten told the Washington Post. "But we are told that the players, black and white, were saying all types of things back and forth during the game. Roy steps in and says, 'Let's stop this.' Trent says to him, '(Expletive) you, N-word.' By all rights, Roy should have thrown his flag there and said, 'You're gone.' But he didn't. He comes back at Trent with some bad language. Now Roy is wrong, too."
Williams contends he did not say anything inappropriate and if he said what Wooten claimed, then he should have been penalized for it.
"If I ever said anything like that to a ref and he feels that strongly about the word, that's at least an unsportsmanlike (penalty)," Williams told the Post. "Definitely wouldn't just warrant a tongue-lashing from a guy that's supposed to be the only neutral person on the field and not to feel either way about either team.
"There's trash talk. Trash talk is trash talk. You get that in every sport."
NFLRA executive director Jim Quirk said officials are fed up with working in a hostile environment.
"The NFL's decision to suspend Mr. Ellison creates a double standard for what is acceptable on-field conduct," Quirk said. "The league insists that officials are held to a 'high standard' but others involved in the game are held to no standard. 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."
Former head of officials Mike Pereira, now with Fox Sports, said this is not the first time Ellison has been accused of such a thing.
"What concerns me about this is I sat in the same chair that (NFL VP of Officiating) Dean Blandino, the vice president of officiating, is sitting in right now, with the same official, Roy Ellison, who years ago allegedly shouted and swore at players, and it was a big issue that I had to deal with," Pereira said on Fox Football Daily.
"I actually had to talk with him in the office to make sure that none of this was going on. So the fact that it has happened twice now with the same individual has to concern the league, and I know they are taking a strong look at this."
Ellison previously was not disciplined because there was no evidence that he had used verbally abusive language.