He spent nearly a half-century honing his mostly thankless craft year-round. Clem Brooks officiated football, basketball, baseball and softball games in his beloved bay area, a whistle-wielding blend of impartial and indefatigable.
But on Tuesday afternoon, the 86-year-old retired Air Force veteran could remain detached no longer. Objectivity was flung to the wind like a yellow flag when Brooks was informed of the history set to transpire at Monday night’s Rams-Bucs game at Raymond James Stadium.
That game will feature the first all-Black officiating crew in NFL history.
“I cried,” said Brooks, who spent several years as part of the chain crew at Bucs games and even worked on the crew for Super Bowl 43 at Raymond James.
“That’s amazing ... and I always wondered what would the progress be for Black officials to get in the NFL field and also the NBA. But it’s been great. Sometimes I think it didn’t move fast enough, but time has (arrived) for those people who waited.”
Veteran NFL referee Jerome Boger, a former Morehouse College quarterback, will be joined by normal teammates Barry Anderson (umpire), Julian Mapp (down judge), Anthony Jeffries (field judge) and Dale Shaw (side judge). Joining them will be Carl Johnson (line judge) and Greg Steed (back judge).
All possess at least a dozen years of NFL experience except Shaw (eighth season) and Jeffries (third).
“For the first time in the NFL’s 100-year history, a game will be officiated by an all-Black crew,” said Troy Vincent, NFL executive vice-president of football operations, in a statement released by the league.
“This historic Week 11 crew is a testament to the countless and immeasurable contributions of Black officials to the game, their exemplary performance, and to the power of inclusion that is the hallmark of this great game.”
Monday night’s milestone moment comes 55 years after Burl Toler — a 1952 first-round draft pick of the Browns — was hired by the NFL as a head linesman, becoming the first Black official in any major professional sports league.
The ongoing global pandemic might have played an indirect role in this historic assemblage. This season, the NFL has assigned crews based on geography in an effort to limit travel, league spokesman Michael Signora said. Crew assignment guidelines have also been relaxed in the current environment to assign officials to games closer to their homes when feasible.
Fittingly, the crew will oversee a game involving teams that have conquered some racial barriers within the league. USA Today’s Jarrett Bell, who first reported the assignment of Monday’s crew, noted the Rams were the first NFL team to reintegrate in 1946 after a 12-year color ban.
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Additionally, the Bucs are the first team in NFL history with three Black coordinators: Byron Leftwich (offense), Todd Bowles (defense) and Keith Armstrong (special teams).
It all makes for a landmark event, one Brooks wasn’t certain he’d see in his lifetime.
“I guarantee you when that game is over, they’ll remember that nobody pulled your name out of a hat, but it was because of your ability to handle plays, your appearance, how you can talk to people," said Brooks, who spent 42 years as an official and is a member of the Florida High School Athletic Hall of Fame.
"A long time ago, people wouldn’t think of putting a Black official and a white official on the same game.”