The Texas Association of Sports Officials has suspended a longtime high school football referee for the 2019 season after audio surfaced of him being racist on a phone call. We’re talking “hard-R” racist.

Mike Atkinson, who has been a referee for 45 years, was exposed in a lawsuit filed by Joe Machol, a longtime high school and college official who believed that he was unfairly removed from a position within TASO, according to the Houston Chronicle. Michol’s suit included Atkinson’s racist remarks, which came “within the past year” on a phone call with another high school official who had a dispute with TASO. (According to a different Chronicle post, that official had been suspended by the association after they were arrested for a DUI and failed to report it.) Here’s the audio:

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Atkinson admitted to making the remarks and knew they were “unacceptable,” but said that he was baited into it by the other party on the phone. The referee, who has fielded all-white crews for games for the majority of his career, also offered this unconvincing defense as to why he felt so familiar saying “nigger”:

Atkinson told the Chronicle he had no issues with having a black person on his crew if he could find a good one. Brian Raines, who is black, was on his 2018 crew.

“They’re putting all this out there that I’m a big-time racist and all this,” Atkinson said. “For the people that know me, they know that’s not true.”

Atkinson said he does not regularly use the N-word.

“I know what it sounds like when you hear those clips,” he said. “But I’m talking to (the person who made the recordings) in a private conversation, and he’s using the word, and I said it a couple times.

“I’m a jokester. I like to listen to things. I watch Black Entertainment Television all the time because I think it’s hilarious. I may have picked up something … I don’t know. I don’t know.”

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Huh. Atkinson will be able to file for reinstatement for the 2020 season, but both the TASO state board and the Houston chapter board will have to approve his request.

[Houston Chronicle | Houston Chronicle]

H/t to Don