How do you judge a man with conviction? Not just one with beliefs, but one that supports his beliefs with action. Dr. Martin Luther King, organizing followers who stood firm in their fight for civil rights no matter the odds or violence they faced. Malcolm Little, evolving from "Detroit Red" to Malcolm X, preaching about inequality and separatism and then embracing brotherhood through diversity. Principal Joe Clark and Coach Ken Carter, fighting for the education of students who would otherwise be neglected by the system. Bo Schembechler, firing Bill Frieder and giving Steve Fisher the reigns as head coach of Michigan’s basketball team in the 1989 Men’s NCAA Basketball Tournament because he wanted a Michigan man at the helm, not someone who was leaving the program. These are men of conviction, whose faith, morals and beliefs enabled them to stand firm in the face of criticism, opposition and violence. They were willing to fight for what they believed was right, and their eventual success validated their rationale.
This week we learned of another man of conviction, one that quietly stood against racism without the general masses recognizing it.
Mike Carey, former NFL referee and now a rules analyst for CBS’ NFL Game Day show, had privately and noiselessly taken a stand against the burgundy and gold from Washington D.C. For the last eight years, Carey, the first black head referee to officiate a Super Bowl, and one of the best officials in the game (according to a 2008 poll of coaches conducted by ESPN), had refused to officiate Washington games or even use the term “Redskins.”
In an interview with Mike Wise of the Washington Post, Carey stated “I’ve called them Washington all my life. And I will continue to call them Washington.” His stance was a profound example of conviction, yet one that went unnoticed to the general masses. But like the great leaders mentioned previously, Carey would not let money or the bright lights sway his firm position on the derogatory term employed by the team from the nation’s capital. “Human beings take social stances” Carey told Wise. “And if you’re respectful of all human beings, you have to decide what you’re going to do and why you’re going to do it.”
Muhammad Ali refused to fight in the Vietnam War, which resulted in him being stripped of his Heavyweight title and becoming a target of hatred and venom from many. Like Ali, Carey’s quiet refusal to work a game involving the burgundy and gold would not be broken.
"Everybody has to look inside themselves and decide what is the right thing for them,” said Carey. “In America, we’ve learned that respect is the most important thing you have. I learned it from my parents, my schools and from my faith. And when you learn there’s something that might not be as respectful as you like, when you come to terms with it, you have to do something about it.”
To some, it might seem ironic that the revealing of Carey’s actions coincides with the protests against police brutality and civil rights violations in Ferguson, Missouri and New York. Others might see his actions as a sign that the injustices of the past have not been forgotten, and that social activism is alive and thriving (thanks in large part to social media). But for men like Carey, Ali, Bo, Malcolm and Martin, it is simply a demonstration of belief, one that trumps compensation, recognition or promotion. “I knew going in that this could be a career limiting move,” Carey said. “But you just have to stand for what you believe in.”
Carey was, and is, more than just a leader of a crew of referees. His protest was as covert as a concealed weapon, yet it reverberates like a cannon. He stands for something, which makes him a man of conviction that deserves to be acknowledged and respected for his undisclosed, yet voluminous stance against a long-existing term of degradation.
As we watch the crowds protest in both Missouri and New York, and remember those in Florida who recently fought for justice in the wake of the Trayvon Martin murder, it is heartwarming to know that there is one who has fought all along without requiring a public forum to express his feelings.
Some athletes will cover up competing sponsor logos to support their personal endorsement deals, the most famous example being when Michael Jordan used the American flag to cover up the Reebok logo on the Team USA jackets while on the Olympic medal stand in 1992. Others publically express their support of social causes, as evidenced on Monday night when Ryan Clark and Washington’s secondary raised their hands in respect for the “hands up, don’t shoot” movement in Ferguson. Let’s see if there exists a Mike Carey on the burgundy and gold who will cover the image on their helmet, a symbol of pain and suffering for many in this country. Someone who is willing to forfeit their paycheck to stand for what’s right.
Now that would be true conviction. I’m sure even Mike Carey would openly agree.