In a surprising development, the NFL decided yesterday not to fine Washington Redskins wide receiver Michael Westbrook for his comments about the officiating in last Sunday's loss at Detroit.
Greg Aiello, the league's vice president of public relations, said that Westbrook will be sent a letter of reprimand informing him that any similar comments in the future will result in a fine.
The decision not to fine Westbrook was made by Commissioner Paul Tagliabue, Aiello said.
"The commissioner decided the comments were so farfetched that a fine would give them more significance than they deserved," Aiello said from the NFL's offices in New York. "We're referring to the comments that Byron Boston is making calls to help his son. Any future comments of this nature would result in a fine."
Byron Boston, the father of Arizona Cardinals rookie wide receiver David Boston, worked as a line judge in the Redskins' 33-17 loss to the Lions. On Monday, Westbrook said that Byron Boston was the Lions' "twelfth man" on the field Sunday.
Westbrook, after discussing the officiating in the Lions game on three separate occasions, declined to talk about the matter any further yesterday.
"I'm done with it," he said. "I'm done with the whole issue. I'm done with it."
NFL officials contacted the Redskins on Tuesday and asked whether the team intended to fine Westbrook.
The Redskins indicated they did not plan to fine Westbrook, and were told by the NFL officials that the league likely would do so.
Three coaches--the Baltimore Ravens' Brian Billick, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' Tony Dungy and the Lions' Bobby Ross--and Indianapolis Colts President Bill Polian each have been fined $10,000 by the league this season for comments about officiating. The Redskins had expected Westbrook to be fined $10,000 as well.
Cardinals long snapper Trey Junkin had called for the NFL to suspend Westbrook for one game.
The 17-year veteran told the Arizona Republic: "Look who said it. It would be different if Brad Johnson said it, or Norv Turner, or Darrell Green, who is one of the classiest guys I ever played against. But Michael Westbrook? You almost expect it."
The Redskins were flagged for 14 penalties against the Lions, and lost two touchdowns on plays that involved calls reversed by instant-replay reviews.
Fullback Larry Centers lost a first-quarter touchdown catch and run after officials ruled that the ball had touched the ground as Lions safety Mark Carrier attempted to make a diving interception.
That ruling was overturned by replay, but the Redskins were given the ball at Detroit's 30-yard line because officials had whistled the play dead on the field. The Redskins settled for a field goal.
Westbrook lost a fourth-quarter touchdown catch when it was ruled on a replay review that he hadn't gotten both feet down in bounds. The Redskins felt that Westbrook was in bounds, and should have been awarded the touchdown even if he wasn't because he was forced out in the air by a defender.
The Redskins sent several plays from the Detroit game to the league for review. Three calls by referee Phil Luckett's crew were overturned by replay during the game.
In the locker room at the Silverdome following the game, Westbrook said it was as if the Redskins were playing against 12 men. On Monday, after finding out that Boston had worked the game, Westbrook said his 12th-man theory had been proven correct.
On Wednesday, after the possibility of a fine became public, Westbrook said he hadn't questioned Byron Boston's integrity but simply had pointed out an uncomfortable situation.
Other Redskins players, including Centers and quarterback Brad Johnson, also questioned the propriety of Boston officiating games involving the Cardinals' NFC East rivals. The Redskins (7-5) and Cardinals (6-6) are scheduled to play on Sunday at FedEx Field, with first place in the division on the line.
According to league officials, the NFL's competition committee reviewed the situation before this season and decided that Byron Boston would be prohibited from working Cardinals games during the regular season, but would be permitted to officiate other games.
The matter could be reviewed again after the season if the issue is raised by any teams, league officials say.
David Boston said he was disappointed but not angry about Westbrook's remarks.
Byron Boston was not made available to comment by the league.
Redskins Coach Norv Turner said any concerns the Redskins have about the matter would be handled privately, through league channels.
Boston is in his fifth season as an NFL official and has worked two NFC championship games.