I am writing to implore you to demonstrate leadership and bring the labor dispute with NFL officials to an immediate end. As others have noted, the very integrity of the game is at stake.
Let me begin by offering puzzlement over why the dispute has gotten to where we are today. The NFL is the juggernaut of professional sports, a multi-billion dollar industry, and it is my understanding that the NFL is haggling over a few million dollars. That strikes me as an odd position for a league that strives to put the very best product onto the field each game day. At last glance, the money sought by officials only amounted to $100,000 per NFL team each year and only increases compensation between 5 and 11 percent. While I agree with the league’s position that the officials should be full-time employees of the NFL, forcing officials to leave their current jobs should result in commensurate financial compensation; changing the game mid-stream should not be a financial net loss for officials facing this decision. While I appreciate that like all businesses the NFL is focused on the bottom line, paying officials appropriate salaries and benefits is an investment in the NFL, not a detraction.
Next, let me point out that your term as Commissioner has become synonymous with the NFL’s concern with player safety. I argue that replacement officials for the NFL will jeopardize player safety, not enhance it. Unlike a past official’s dispute when the NFL was able to utilize NCAA Division I officials, this time the NFL has had to employ much lower level officials, including those working high school games and working for the Lingerie Football League. It’s kind of hard to take seriously your claim that these officials have been adequately trained to attend to player safety when they haven’t even been able to work their way up to officiating in the Big Ten, SEC, or any other major college conference. Despite what the NFL may project, the game of football is very different from high school or NCAA Division III to the pros. Current NFL officials now being locked out are the best equipped and most qualified officials to manage the product on the field.
Former NFL Vice President of Officiating Mike Pereira is on record as being critical of the NFL’s position, noting that the replacement officials being utilized negatively impact the integrty of the game and of the League. While some have noted that Pereira is just trying to help out his friends, the reality is that Mr. Pereira was their supervisor, not their friend, and said all of the things that the NFL would expect him to say while he was an NFL employee. Now that Mr. Pereira is independent of these ties and is offering his opinion, I would suggest that the NFL stop trying to question and/or undermine Mr. Pereira’s character, but instead consider the truth to be found in his statements. Patriots’ Head Coach Bill Belichick seems to concur with this sentiment, and I would offer that Coach Belichick’s position is likely to coincide with many other NFL coaches, whether or not they choose to utter these opinions in public.
On the whole Mr. Goodell, I believe you have had a positive impact on the NFL during your term to date as Commissioner. I have appreciated seeing appropriate discipline instituted for player misbehavior, and your focus on player safety is highly needed. But in my opinion you are dead wrong for squabbling over what roughly amounts to $6,000 a game per official. I hope you will take the opportunity to reconsider the league’s position and resolve this dispute before the season starts, before players are hurt as a result of the inexperience and/or ignorance of the replacement officials, and before a game is won or lost because of a bad call by an official who has no business on an NFL field. Those factors impact the integrity of the game far more than an official’s salary.