A Texas high school football referee has been suspended from the state sports officials association and from refereeing for the season after he was caught on tape using racist language.
Mike Atkinson was recorded by another member of the Texas Association of Sports Officials using the n-word. The recordings were obtained during a legal investigation into TASO, a nonprofit organization, according to Fox 26.
The recordings were released by the person Atkinson was speaking to on the phone and handed to the Houston Chronicle. Fox 26 also obtained the recording.
“I just went to the mixer the other day. A bunch of f—–g n—–s wanting a free meal,” he said in one clip referring to a “Chapter and Crew Mixer” that the Houston Football Chapter of TASO hosted on Feb. 10, according to the Chronicle.
The context for the other clips are not apparent but they include Atkinson, who is the owner of Atkinson Farm, saying, “He would find a way to n—– it up.”
“There probably was some of them that Norman thought he had, ’cause he wanted to be the big n—–,” he said in another recording referring to what the Chronicle reported was a Black official.
In Texas, it is legal to record a phone call with the consent of only one party.
Atkinson admitted to Fox 26 that it was him on the recordings and said he regretted using the epithet.
“I’m awfully embarrassed about the situation. I owe everyone an apology. It’s really not me to make them kind of statements,” he said to the news station before saying it “probably ended” his 45-year career, which he “deeply regrets.”
“I just need to owe everyone an apology,” he said.
He spoke on it further to the Houston Chronicle but said the person on the other end also used the slur.
“I thought these were private conversations between friends,” Atkinson told the newspaper. “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,” he said.
Atkinson is named in a lawsuit filed by Joe Machol, a high school and college official who also operated the game clock for the Houston Texans for 17 years. His lawsuit alleges he was wrongly terminated as the Houston chapter president of TASO.
The filing alleges Atkinson said not long after the election for the Houston TASO president was held, “southside n—–s” who voted for Machol were responsible for his one-vote loss. Atkinson denied that according to the Chronicle.
In a memo, which the newspaper reported was issued to TASO members on April 17 but dated April 4 on the organization’s website, executive director Michael Fitch acknowledged “one or more TASO members have made racially insensitive comments and/or ‘jokes’ in the company of other members or on social media.” After noting that is not tolerated by the organization, he said a former member “secretly recorded some members making racially repugnant remarks.”
“He wanted to force TASO to reinstate his membership,” Fitch, who is also named in Machol’s litigation alleging he was present when Atkinson’s remarks were made, said in the letter. He denied the conversation with Atkinson ever took place to the newspaper.
“The former member threatened to make the recordings public if TASO did not comply with his demand for reinstatement,” the memo went on. “TASO classifies the former member’s actions as unethical and unprofessional. Further, TASO will pursue sanctions against any member who attempts to avoid their disciplinary action by unethical and unprofessional behavior.”
The letter also said 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.”
Initially, TASO told Atkinson he would be suspended for two weeks when the 2019 football season began, the Chronicle reported. At the end of the season, he was told he’d be suspended for three weeks. That meant his crew would not be involved in the state quarterfinal, semifinal, and championship games.
Atkinson appealed and said TASO informed him the appeal was delayed.
Despite the suspension, Machol’s attorney Kathleen O’Connor told Fox 26 it was not enough.
“Here’s someone who’s disparaging not only 50 percent of his co-members, but probably 50 percent of kids who play football in the high school Houston area. He basically got a slap on the wrist. And a man who was doing his job, got expelled and lost his livelihood,” said O’Connor.
For his part, Atkinson said he does not typically use the n-word.
“I’m a jokester. I like to listen to things,” he told the Chronicle. “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.”