“NFL game officials are expected to avoid personal confrontations with players and be respectful of players and coaches at all times,” the NFL statement said.
The National Football League Referees Association responded by declaring its intent to file an immediate grievance on behalf of Ellison, releasing a statement denouncing the suspension “as a rush to judgment without hearing Ellison’s side of the story.”
Michael Arnold, legal counsel for the NFLRA, said in the release that “the NFL imposed its judgment upon [Ellison] without consideration of all the facts.” Arnold also described the ruling as “arbitrary and unjustified,” and said that the “NFL has chosen to ignore the racial slur directed by Trent Williams at Roy Ellison.”
Williams said after the game Sunday, in which the Redskins lost to the Philadelphia Eagles, that he had been verbally abused by Ellison, identifying the official by his jersey No. 81. Williams said that Ellison called him a “garbage [expletive], disrespectful [expletive].”
On Thursday, an organization that works with the NFL to promote racial diversity accused Williams of directing a profanity and racial slur at Ellison during the encounter. Williams said he did not use a racial slur. Both men are African American.
Ellison was not available to comment and Williams declined comment Friday when reached after the suspension of Ellison was announced. He had said earlier in the week that he did not expect the league to take action against the official.
According to the league’s statement, Ellison is eligible to rejoin his officiating crew and work games during the Week 13 slate that runs from Nov. 28 to Dec. 2.
John Wooten, the chairman of the Fritz Pollard Alliance, said Friday that Ellison’s suspension was justified but the NFL needed to scrutinize Williams’s role in the incident.
“We’re not surprised by the fact he was suspended,” Wooten said in a telephone interview. “As hurtful as this whole thing is, it’s still something that has to be done. The thing I’m hoping is that the truth will come out that Trent did curse him and did use the N-word at him. I don’t know if they will pursue it.”
Wooten said that Ellison was provoked by Williams’s use of the racial slur at him. He said the official called Williams an “ungrateful [expletive].”
“There no way Roy would have said that just randomly, said this to Trent, without being provoked,” Wooten said. “Now, that doesn’t excuse what [Ellison] said. But players should not have the right to say whatever they want to say to an official.”
The Fritz Pollard Alliance, which works to promote diversity in hiring in the NFL, cited the incident — and the bullying and hazing controversy involving the Miami Dolphins — in a statement Thursday that called on players to stop using racially charged language. The group said officials had called its attention to a “disturbing trend of racial epithets, including the ‘N’ word, being commonly used on the field during games.”
The NFL declined to respond to the criticisms by the Fritz Pollard Alliance and the NFL Referees Association. But Wooten previously acknowledged that Ellison erred by responding verbally and profanely to Williams rather than penalizing or ejecting him.
Williams said Thursday that he “never directed any derogatory statement toward any referee.”
He added: “If I ever said anything like that to a ref and he feels that strongly about the word, that’s at least an unsportsmanlike [conduct penalty]. 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.”