Hoya Opinion Writer Weighs in on NFL Replacement Referees
If you’re reading this, I’m twelve hours into the future. If you’re reading this around breakfast time, I’m enjoying a nice Hong Kong dinner. If you’re reading this around dinner time, well, I’m enjoying a nice hot shower. If you’re reading this at 1 PM on a Sunday…well, I’m parked on my couch. I may be in Asia, but it’s still football time, baby, and I’m not going to bed until at least 5 AM.
The fact that no one circles the wagons like the Buffalo Bills is a time-tested, well-established fact in a usually-complicated, ever-changing world. I stay up for them because I love them—whether they love me back is another question altogether. See, I miss the Two Fs and Two Gs (friends, family, Georgetown, Guards) a whole lot while abroad, but my Sundays at the Laughing Man Tavern on G Street is going to be one of those things I will miss the most when I graduate. Watching the game with some of your best friends and plenty of other Bills friends is no doubt an amazing community experience. Watching the game live here, I am in solidarity with my Labatt-drinking, wing-eating chums.
We frequently lament officiating at the Laughing Man. No matter what, the refs are out to get us. Still, the extent to which referees hate the Bills is debatable, and that’s football—inevitably team gets screwed. Disturbingly, though, the NFL is not only screwing over the teams: they’re demonstrating how little they care about the players, the fans and labor.
First, players. Oakland wide receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey was carted off the field after a brutal (and illegal) hit in the end zone against the Pittsburgh Steelers. No call. Then again, it’s hard to make this point over anecdotal evidence, but the fact remains that experienced referees understand the fragility of players, especially when it comes to head injuries. To put in replacement referees who will not adequately protect players demonstrates how little regard the NFL actually has for player safety. With Junior Seau’s devastating suicide in the offseason bringing head injuries (and safety in general) into the spotlight, the NFL’s cavalier attitude is incredibly disconcerting.
Secondly, the fans. These refs are blowing games. Fact. (The statistics in terms of penalty calls are actually pretty similar now as they were with union refs. Still, these refs take forever to make calls, often seemed confused, and sometimes don’t seem to even know the rules.) (Another great example on their incompetence: before a Saints game during the second week of the season, a referee was revealed to be a supporter of the team. He posted it on his Facebook.) (Another great example: during Monday Night Football between the Patriots and Ravens, Patriots Head Coach Bill Belichick was so fed up with the officiating that he literally grabbed a scab ref while he was running into the tunnel. While I have virtually no respect for Coach Cheater, we rarely see that kind of emotion with any coach.)
Thirdly, labor. The NFL signed an annual $3 billion dollar television agreement with broadcasters. According to Sports Illustrated reporter Peter King, the referees want $3.3 million more than the NFL is willing to give them. I’m sorry, nobody tunes into the NFL to watch Robert Kraft or Ralph Wilson. They go to watch their favorite players, their teams compete, and a fairly fought game. Since the NFL refuses to dole out a tiny fraction of their television or general revenue, we all have to suffer through horrible officiating. But consider this: do they care? Despite all the outrage, commissioner Roger Goodell has all but endorsed having scabs run the NFL and the games. The NFL is one of the most lucrative industries in the world, but Goodell can’t pay its employees a small fraction of the league’s worth? With the assault on unions throughout the country, it’s pretty sad that one of America’s Sports cannot take a stand and pay their employees what they’re worth.
Perhaps the answer is more nefarious: as Grantland’s Bill Simmons suggested, this could all be a distraction to turn our attention away from the Saints bounty scandal and the Seau suicide. It’s time for the owners to stop acting like we came to watch them and give us our game back—even if it means that they have to throw some more (comparative) pennies at the real refs. Time to get rid of the scabs.