NFL debuts first all-Black officiating crew on ‘Monday Night Football’ game

This squad, organized by geography, was pandemic prompted: NFL officials drove to games.

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An all-Black officiating team took to the field for the first time last night to oversee ESPN’s Monday Night Football match between the Los Angeles Rams and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. 

“This historic Week 11 crew is a testament to the countless and immeasurable contributions of Black officials to the game, their exemplary performance,” said NFL executive vice president of football operations Troy Vincent, “and to the power of inclusion that is the hallmark of this great game.”

The first all-Black officiating NFL crew share a moment before putting in work at Monday night’s football game between the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the Los Angeles Rams in Tampa, Florida. Shown are referee Jerome Boger, who leads them; umpire Barry Anderson, field judge Anthony Jeffries, line judge Carl Johnson, down judge Julian Mapp, side judge Dale Shaw and back judge Greg Steed. (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)

According to ESPN, the NFL “assembles its 17 officiating crews before the season and works to keep them together for each game to promote cohesion and communication.”

Under the spotlight in Tampa, this particular team was organized by home geography and prompted by the coronavirus pandemic, allowing officials to drive to games. Further, the league also took the opportunity to highlight diversification in its officiating department. 

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Monday night’s crew was led by referee Jerome Boger. It also included umpire Barry Anderson, field judge Anthony Jeffries, line judge Carl Johnson, down judge Julian Mapp, side judge Dale Shaw and back judge Greg Steed.

“I am proud of my heritage and excited about my participation in this historic game,” Boger told ESPN before the game. “The opportunity to work with a great group of Black officials and exhibit our proficiency in executing our assignment is something I am really looking forward to.”

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During the 2020 season, the NFL has been taking steps to promote racial equity. 

“Lift Every Voice and Sing” is played before the start of every game, and teams are working to elevate people of color within its ranks. 

The first Black official in the NFL — or any professional sport — was Burl Tover, who was hired in 1965. Toler, a head linesman in the league, became the first African American to officiate a Super Bowl game during the 1979 season. 

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Predictably, one social media user opined “What should matter is the quality of the referee, not the color of the skin.” 

Another replied, “Because if the quality of the refs are what we’ve always looked for when choosing them, then we would’ve seen an all-black officiating crew decades ago. But alas, racism. It’s an achievement in a seemingly perpetual battle for equality.” 

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