2005 NFC Wild Card Playoff Game - Washington Redskins vs Tampa Bay Buccaneers - January 7, 2006

While the public outcry over Washington’s team name has recently gained a lot of traction, the issue has bothered many for a good while longer.

In an interview with the Washington Post, retired NFL referee and current CBS analyst Mike Carey divulged that he asked the NFL to allow him to not work Washington games due to the team’s name back in 2006. The NFL honored his request. Since then, Carey has not worked a Washington preseason, regular season or postseason game.

Told a search of game logs dating back as far as 1999, his fourth year in the league, revealed Carey had not worked a preseason or regular season home or away Washington game since the opening week of the 2006 season, he smiled coyly, like a man whose cover had finally been blown.

Pausing for eight full seconds, he finally spoke:

“The league respectfully honored my request not to officiate Washington,” Carey said. “It happened sometime after I refereed their playoff game in 2006, I think.”

For Carey, the first African American referee to work a Super Bowl, the stance was a principled one that was informed by his morals. And yes, unbiased referees can take social stances.

“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,” Carey said.

Told how uncommon his social stance was for a referee, whose primary professional goal is to be unbiased, Carey shook his head.

“Human beings take social stances,” he said. “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.”

Although it’s not clear who took Carey’s request and who heard about his stance (Carey refused to say who he asked and he doesn’t know who knew about it), it’s a bit surprising to hear that the request was honored and acknowledged by people in the league office. According to the Post report, the three men who would have had control over the referee assignments since 2006 would have been Mike Pereira, Carl Johnson and Dean Blandino.

Carey referenced his own experiences as an African American as a reason as to why the team name made him uncomfortable.

“I know that if a team had a derogatory name for African Americans, I would help those who helped extinguish that name. I have quite a few friends who are Native Americans. And even if I didn’t have Native American friends, the name of the team is disrespectful.”

“I have to say the popularity contest is not an issue,” he said. “It doesn’t matter how many people don’t like it. It is disrespectful and I will not use it.”

Asked to explain his personal journey toward how the name became so toxic for him, Carey said, “I think everybody has to look inside themselves and decide what is the right thing for them.

“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.”

The name has always bothered Carey and it will continue to do so until the name is changed. Even when he was working games for Dan Snyder’s team, Carey did not call them by name.

“I’ve called them Washington all my life,” he said, when finally asked. “And I will continue to call them Washington.”

So while some people, like Mike Ditka, believe that this issue has suddenly come out of nowhere and is being pushed by a politically correct agenda, stories like Carey’s show that Washington’s team name has long been a source of discomfort some who work for the NFL itself.

[Washington Post]