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In case vs. official, NFL skeptical about Trent Williams' story

For more news and notes from Jason La Canfora, tune into The NFL Today Sunday at noon ET on CBS.

NFL official Roy Ellison was suspended for this week's game without pay for a verbal diatribe against Redskins tackle Trent Williams. But there are several people within the league office who are convinced Williams did in fact instigate and escalate the verbal altercation, but at this time there are not enough other witnesses to prove it.

Williams has a history of on-and-off-field behavior problems that have caught the league's attention -- should he fail another drug test he will be suspended for a year -- including unsportsmanlike incidents in the past. He has a poor reputation in league circles and Ellison was adamant in testimony to various subjects that Williams, an African-American, was repeatedly using the N-word against Eagles players last week “in a vile manner,” as one source put it, and, when Ellison, also African American intervened to ask him to stop, Williams called him an N-word as well.

"He was throwing the N-word all over the place against the Philadelphia players,” said one source familiar with the case. “It was nasty, vulgar stuff, and Ray Ellison was sick of it. The way that term is used pisses a lot of people off within the game. There are plenty of people who have worked games, and who have worked Trent Williams' games, that support how he handled it.”

Of course, on-field officials are held to a higher standard than the players themselves, and Ellison admitted from the onset that he did in fact direct strong language at Williams. Williams went public with his complaints about that language to the media directly after the loss in Philadelphia. Williams, however, has repeatedly denied using the N-word during the investigation into the matter. Although, while his version is deemed highly suspect by many involved, the burden of proof is high and there is not audio available that picked up the use of the N-word. In these instances the NFL would instruct an official to throw a flag for abuse of an official -- a 15-yard penalty -- and cannot in any way tacitly condone the use of the profane language Ellison chose when the issue arose (even if privately some in the league office and officiating community applaud Ellison for reacting in the manner he did).

Ellison's grievance for his lost salary will not occur in time to allow him to work games this week, but he has strong support from many within the league in this matter. Given the racial component to the Jonathan Martin/Richie Incognito investigation as well, it remains to be seen if the NFL takes on any sort of a more specific stance or policy on the use of the word in workplace settings, as clearly its use can create widely different reactions based in some cases on age, cultural factors and the tone with which it is used.

 
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