NFL’s first all-Black ref crew is worth celebrating, but it should not have taken this long

It was a special moment, no doubt — but this barrier should have been broken long ago.
It was a special moment, no doubt — but this barrier should have been broken long ago.
Photo: (Getty Images)

Last night, history was made — the first all African American officiating crew took the field for an NFL game. This moment deserves to be recognized, but it is also infuriating that in the year 2020, barriers still need to be broken. I hate that we have to celebrate this moment.

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The crew for the Bucs-Rams showdown was a good one, led by referee Jerome Boger, a 17-year official. Boger, umpire Barry Anderson, and line judge Carl Johnson all have Super Bowl officiating experience. The crew was rounded out by side judge Anthony Jeffries, down judge Julian Mapp, field judge Dale Shaw, and back judge Greg Steed.

In a video on NFL.com, Jerome Boger made a statement about the significance of the evening. “I am humbled to stand on the shoulders of the black officials who paved the way for me,” Boger said. “especially Johnny Grier, whose number 23 I wear today.” Grier was the first African American official, promoted to referee in 1988.

This story is historic on it’s own, but the fact that it happened in this year, where nationally there has been so much attention to racial injustice and inequality, with protests and painful conversations happening regularly, made it particularly impactful. On May 25, George Floyd was killed. Over the next few months, professional athletes from every sport reacted. Games were cancelled across multiple leagues. Emotions and tensions ran high across our country, and entire organizations decided they were going to use their platforms to speak, act, and stand in unity.

Almost six months to the day since George Floyd was killed, we get our first all African American officiating crew. Representation matters. It should be celebrated and commemorated as a significant moment, but let’s not get it twisted — it’s a disgrace that it only happened now, officiating a game played predominantly by Black men, in a league that has existed for over 100 years. This should have happened a long, long time ago.

There were seven African American officials in last night’s game, but there are only three African American head coaches in the NFL today — Anthony Lynn, Brian Flores, and Mike Tomlin. This is a step in the right direction, but the league has a long way to go.