Ref Lockout: Taking a Travesty to End a Travesty
Strikes, lockouts and other forms of American labor disputes have been settled by the votes of striking workers, by calling out the National Guard to force workers back on the job, by firing the strikers and replacing them with other people, by court orders, and by numerous other means.
But not until last Wednesday did any group of workers and management resolve their differences because of one play in a football game.
Yet that is the very reason that the National Football League owners agreed late Wednesday night to end their lockout of the league’s regular game officials.
The play in question was, of course, the final scrimmage play in the Seattle Seahawks-Green Bay Packers game last Monday night at CenturyLink Stadium in Seattle when Russell Wilson, the Seattle quarterback, threw a 24-yard Hail Mary pass to Golden Tate in the far left corner of the end zone with Green Bay up by five points.
Replacement officials ruled that Tate caught the ball to score the winning touchdown when everyone else who witnessed the crowd of Green Bay defenders leaping for the ball with Tate knew full well that M.D. Jennings, the Green Bay safety, came down with the ball clutched to his chest. Those witnesses included millions of people watching the telecast of the ESPN Monday night game.
This was the straw that broke the back of the lockout instituted by NFL owners last June.
The NFL commissioner, Roger Goodell, hired inept replacement officials to fill in during preseason exhibition games last summer and during the first three weeks of the regular NFL season.
Coaches, players and fans have voiced increasing frustration over the worst officiating in NFL history during those first 48 games of the regular season. Coaches and players have been fined for verbally and physically confronting these substitute officials.
The New England Patriots’ head coach, Bill Belichick, was fined $50,000 for grabbing an official’s shoulder when trying to question him about a doubtful field goal that cost New England its game against the Baltimore Ravens last Sunday night.
However, the ruling that cost Green Bay its victory over Seattle last Monday night caused a furor from coast to coast, the likes of which has never before been seen or heard in NFL history.
The Worst of the Worst
It was simply the worst of many terrible rulings in game after game by these make-believe officials. Even President Obama chimed in, calling the outcome of the game “terrible.” And that comes from a true Chicago Bears fan, one who is honor-bound to dislike anything pertaining to the Green Bay Packers.
This farce had to end. Even Commissioner Goodell knew this. After all, he saw that last play Monday night. He knew how bad a ruling it was. And all of the 31 wealthy team owners saw it and knew they must settle and end their lockout.
There are 32 teams in the NFL. But the Green Bay Packers are publicly owned, as thousands and thousands of Wisconsin folks hold stock in the team. And they, more than any others, felt the hurt from the travesty perpetrated on the CenturyLink Stadium gridiron.
The Green Bay situation was one of the prime reasons the lockout had to end. Goodell and the other owners knew that under no circumstances could the NFL send a crew of those replacement officials to Green Bay to call the game between the Packers and the New Orleans Saints at Lambeau Field today.
After what the fill-in officials did to the Packers last Monday night by jamming defeat down the jaws of a Green Bay victory, any such imitation officials might be tarred and feathered and run out of Green Bay on a rail if they dared to show in that land of Cheese Heads today.
The NFL and its teams collaborate in the biggest entertainment business in the nation if not in the world. This enterprise grosses more than $9 billion per year from a variety of sources that include television contracts, ticket sales and merchandise.
The National Football League Referees Association and NFL owners disagreed on a couple of financial issues, including a desire by the NFLRA to retain the current pension for its union members. The NFL wanted all officials to switch to a 401(k) savings plan to replace the pension.
Last Wednesday night’s agreement included a continuation of the pension for all current NFL officials through the 2016 season while new officials will be put into the 401(k) plan. The average salary for an official will be $173,000 starting next year, an increase of $24,000.
A Mockery of Itself
NFL officials, most of whom are professional men such as lawyers and teachers, are actually part-time workers. Under the new contract, the NFL will have the right to hire a few full-time officials in addition to what will be called a taxi squad of officials for purposes of the commissioner replacing officials who are not performing up to NFL standards.
Ironically, failure to perform up to standards is what finally brought this whole fiasco to an end.
Officiating became such a sham under these sub referees, linesmen, back judges and others that Aaron Rodgers, the Green Bay quarterback and last year’s NFL most valuable player, said during an ESPN interview following the horrible result Monday night, “The game is being tarnished by an NFL that obviously cares more about saving some money than having the integrity of the game diminished.”
The locked-out officials claimed their financial demands would only cost the NFL $3.2 million per year out of that whopping $9 billion.
No matter what the claims on each side of that squabble, the result was that NFL football had become a mockery of its former self for the past three weeks.
Troy Aikman, the former Dallas Cowboys quarterback and a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame, said, “These games are a joke.”
That very bad joke may be over. But teams such as the Green Bay Packers and New England Patriots, accustomed to reaching the playoffs and the Super Bowl, may have to overcome a loss or two that they might have avoided if competent NFL referees had been officiating their early games this season.
Gordon White served 43 years as a sports reporter for The New York Times. His email is email@example.com.
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