Top Texas High School Football Referee Suspended for Racist Comments

One of Texas’ top referees in high school football has been suspended for the upcoming 2019 season for reportedly making racist comments. Mike Atkinson, one of the state’s longest-tenured high school football referees, was suspended from officiating next season by the Texas Association of Sports Officials (TASO) after he had made racist comments and used the n-word, the Houston Chronicle reported.

The former referee, who had been a football official for 45 years in the state, can be heard making the comments during phone conversations over the past year. The audio clips, which were obtained by the publication, surfaced because of a disciplinary dispute another football official had with TASO. In one of the audio clips obtained by the Houston Chronicle, Atkinson can be heard talking about an event held by the Houston Football Chapter of TASO on February 10 called the “Chapter and Crew Mixer.” Atkinson can be heard saying: “I just went to the mixer the other day … a bunch of [expletive n-word] wanting a free meal.”

In the rest of the audio clip obtained by the publication, there is no context behind Atkinson’s statements, but he can be heard saying things like: “He would find a way to [n-word] it up” and “he wanted to be the big [n-word],” in reference to a Black official. Atkinson denied using racist language and told the Houston Chronicle the person who recorded him during the phone conversation had used the same language. “I thought these were private conversations between friends,” Atkinson told the publication. “I promise you with my life, using the n-word by me is true, but I will promise you with my life, my wife's life, my kids’ life and everything I do, [the person who taped him] also used that word. We were back and forth. I understand what it sounds like, but I was baited into it.”

Michael Fitch, the executive director of TASO, released a statement in April about Atkinson’s comments two months after the organization was made aware of the recordings, according to the Houston Chronicle. Although Atkinson was not named in the statement, TASO noted there had been more than one member who has made racist comments. In the statement, it does not name Atkinson but noted that there had been more than one TASO member who has made racist comments.

“One or more TASO members have made racially insensitive comments and/or ‘jokes’ in the company of other members or on social media. These few members do not represent the values of TASO,” the statement read. “Members who make racially insensitive remarks reflect badly on TASO and the vast majority of TASO members find those remarks repugnant. TASO has and will take disciplinary action against any member displaying any racial prejudice by words or deeds. TASO will discipline any member though they claim they made the inappropriate remarks in jest.”

The organization told Atkinson in May that he would be suspended for two weeks at the beginning of the 2019 football season and carry out a three-week suspension at the end of the season, according to the Houston Chronicle. However, his punishment was later extended to the full 2019 season. His suspensions will also eliminate his crew from the state quarterfinal, semifinal, and championship games.

In order to be reinstated, Atkinson will have to petition to the TASO state board and the Houston chapter board, where both boards will have to approve the request so he can participate in the 2020 season, according to the Houston Chronicle. In May, the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) filed a formal complaint with the Board of Professional Responsibility of the Supreme Court of Tennessee against Coffee County District Attorney Craig Northcott for posting several Islamophobic social media posts. In the Facebook posts from May 18, he called Islam “evil, violent, and against God’s truth.” Earlier that month, CAIR had called on Northcott to resign.

“This overt anti-Muslim racism calls into serious question his ability to fairly represent this diverse constituency. Claiming that following Islam, a peaceful religion practiced by 1.6 billion, is ‘no different than being part of the KKK,’ a violent, racist hate group, is evidence that he cannot possibly act impartially,” CAIR wrote in a previous statement. “Mr. Northcott’s belief that all Muslims are evil precludes any hope for fairness.”

About the Author

Maria Perez is a breaking news writer for The North Star. She has an M.A. in Urban Reporting from the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism. She has been published in the various venues, including Newsweek, Juvenile Justice Information Exchange, City Limits, and local newspapers like The Wave and The Home Reporter.