Washington Redskins wide receiver Michael Westbrook said yesterday that he did not intend to question the integrity of NFL official Byron Boston, but several of his teammates came gingerly to his defense, implying that having Boston officiate their games creates at least the appearance of a conflict of interest.
Byron Boston, whose son David plays for NFC East rival Arizona, served as line judge in the Redskins' 33-17 loss at Detroit on Sunday. The Redskins--who are a game ahead of Arizona in the NFC East and play the Cardinals on Sunday--were assessed 14 penalties for 122 yards.
"I think it's something that has to be looked at and it will be looked at," quarterback Brad Johnson said. "But I don't think he's what cost us the ballgame the other day. I think we cost ourselves the ballgame."
Three calls by referee Phil Luckett's crew were reversed Sunday by instant replay. Westbrook also asserted that Byron Boston called two penalties against the Redskins that were not evident on the game film.
"When you have three overturned calls in a ballgame, you have to lose some confidence in the crew working the game," said fullback Larry Centers, who suggested that the NFL consider assigning Boston only to AFC games. "After looking at the film, they called it pretty close--almost like a preseason game. I was disappointed with the way the game was called."
Criticisms of officiating by coaches have drawn fines of $10,000 this season. If the NFL chooses to fine him for his comments, Westbrook said he would likely appeal, arguing that he was simply pointing out the relationship between Byron and David Boston.
"I didn't question anybody's integrity," Westbrook said yesterday. "The guy is a referee. His son was drafted, and he plays in our division. I know for a fact that he made a couple of bad calls. I'm not saying that that is the reason he did make those calls. I'm just making a statement that is a fact."
When David Boston was chosen eighth overall in this year's draft, the NFL's Competition Committee decided that Byron Boston could not officiate in any of the Cardinals' regular season or playoff games. David Boston told reporters yesterday in Tempe, Ariz., that he considered the criticism of his father unfair.
"I don't agree to the comments that were made," Boston said. "They questioned my dad's integrity and I look up to my father. He's my hero. . . . I didn't get angry. I was a little disappointed, but it didn't really bother me that much. He's an honest guy."
Westbrook had said immediately after the loss that it felt like the Redskins were playing against "12 men." After learning the line judge had a son who played for the Cardinals the next day, Westbrook raised the issue the again, adding: "You think Arizona wants us to lose or not?"
Yesterday, Westbrook insisted he didn't understand the flap over his remarks.
"I made a statement," he said. "It was nothing more than a fact. I'm saying the guy has to be in an awkward position. His son is playing in the same league he is [officiating] in. I didn't accuse him of anything. I didn't say anything about his integrity or anything."
Westbrook seemed resigned to the possibility of a fine, even though he feels it would be unfounded.
"I don't see what the fine is about," he said. "I mean, aren't I supposed to be able to state facts? Are we trying to hide something? Are we trying to hide the fact that his father is refereeing our game? I don't see the big deal. If you fine me, fine me."
Coach Norv Turner said if Redskins officials feel there is an issue that needs re-examining, they will address that with the NFL front-office in private, during the offseason.
Asked if he felt Boston should continue to work games involving NFC East teams, Turner said: "Now that the question is raised, there are a lot of people who have opinions. I believe if the Redskins as an organization have a feeling, then it'll be handled privately through the league."
The players seemed to choose their words carefully yesterday, and Johnson acknowledged it was a touchy subject.
"It's unfortunate for the player and for the dad that's a referee," he said. "Obviously he's a very well respected referee. . . . I think sometimes it's a bit touchy or close to be calling an NFC East game. It's unfortunate for him."
Redskins Note: Tight end Stephen Alexander practiced yesterday but didn't run at full speed. Turner said he wouldn't have a feel for Alexander's availability Sunday against Arizona until he sees how Alexander responds today. Meanwhile, Brad Badger filled in at left guard while Keith Sims (knee) rested. Alexander was upgraded to probable; Sims is questionable for Sunday.
Staff writer Mark Maske contributed to this report.