Black History & Sports: The First African American Referee to Officiate the Super Bowl
His number – 94. His uniform – white with black stripes. His team – The NFL Officials. His position – senior referee. His legacy – respect.
Statistically speaking, you have a better chance of becoming a Navy Seal than a NFL Official – not kidding. However, as elite as being a NFL Official is, it’s only a small piece of the honorable story of Michael “Mike” Carey.
With a bachelor’s degree in biology (Santa Clara University) and a semi-recovered ankle injury (courtesy of 4 years running back), Mike Carey started officiating Pop Warner football in 1971 at the suggestion of a friend. Officiating was a part-time job as Mike and his wife Wendy founded Seirus Innovation in 1979, a privately held manufactory company of ski and snowboarding glove, face protection, and other cold-weather accessories.
Mike came into the league in 1990 as a side judge and was prompted to referee in the ‘95 season making him the second African American ref in NFL history after Johnny Grier (1988).
Over 18 years Mike built a respectable reputation for his thorough pre-game preparation, professional demeanor, and fair play. He’s been recognized as “the best referee” (tied with legendary ref Ed Hochuli) by NFL coaches. With a string of memorable games to his record (including ejecting Washington Redskins safety Sean Taylor for his infamous spitting incident) Carey was named referee for Super Bowl XLII – the first African American referee to be assigned to the prestigious game. “It’s a personal honor and a great sign of the evolution of our society that all barriers are eroding”, Carey stated on the significance of the event.
Carey was evolutionary in more ways than one.
Referees by common observance are considered to be impartial and unbiased. But by principle, they represent fairness, respect and integrity.
And Mike Carey embodies this these values. So much so that a search of the game logs dating back to 1999 reveal that Carey had not worked a preseason or regular season home or away game for the Washington Redskins since the opening week of the 2006 season.
Carey was against the derogatory racial slur of the team’s name / mascot.
“It just become clear to me that in the middle of the field, where something disrespectful is happening, is probably not the best thing for me” Carey said after officiating Washington’s 2006 playoff game.
And so it was respected.
It seems uncommon for a referee to take a social stance, when it seems the primary goal is to be unbiased.
“Human beings take social stances…and if you’re respectful of all human beings, you have decided what you’re going to do and why you’re going to do it.”
On June 24, 2014, after 24 years, Carey resigned form the NFL for the call of another evolutionary move.
CBS has not had a rules analyst on its staff prior to 2014. After a casual conversation half-joking but serious CBS Sports chairman Sean McManus told Carey “So many times throughout the years of watching you officiate, I often thought it would be great to have you someday work for CBS. Carey joined CBS as an analyst for its Thursday night and Sunday broadcasts.
Mike Carey worked 17 postseason assignments, including 9 wild card playoffs, 5 divisional playoffs, 2 conference championships, and Super Bowl XLII. In that Super Bowl, Carey was noted for his poise on the game’s most sensational play. Had Carey whistled the play dead, the fate of the game could have completely changed. He made a judgment call, and stood in it.
Respect is earned on the fields of your beliefs and the judgment calls you make. You may not win any popularity contest – but then again, you just might.
Have an adreneline-rushed Super Bowl Sunday!