One of the longest-tenured referees in Texas high school football has been suspended for the upcoming season for making racist comments. 

Mike Atkinson, a high school football official for 45 years, used the N-word numerous times in a series of recorded phone conversations over the past year. Audio clips of those conversations surfaced as part of a disciplinary dispute another official had with the Texas Association of Sports Officials. 

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

Atkinson admitted using the N-word, but said the person who recorded the conversations did as well. 

“We were back and forth. I understand what it sounds like, but I was baited into it.”

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According to the Chronicle report, several TASO members in the Houston area said Atkinson has for years had an all-white crew — even after Texas high school officials increased the number of game officials from five to seven — and he rarely added an African-American unless it was a requirement for the playoffs.

Atkinson, who has been honored by the Greater Houston Coaches Association with its Distinguished Service Award and who regularly referees state championship games, will have to petition both the state and Houston chapter boards for reinstatement.

“For more than 25 years, my crew has been on top,” Atkinson said. “This is just a way to take the guy on top down.

Both boards will have to approve the request for him to return to the field for the 2020 season.

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