The National Football League and Commissioner Roger Gooddell are determined to break the spirit and the will of the National Football League Referees Association. Like a business magnate trying to squash a labor union, the NFL is doing everything in its power to turn this contract dispute into a power play for control. In their quest to win this battle, both the product on the field and the safety of the players are being sacrificed, and the NFL doesn’t care.
As Steve Young noted following the Falcons-Broncos game that was a travesty of officiating, the NFL knows that demand for its product is so high that it can’t lose its fight. Fans continue to flock to the game in the stadiums and on television, and the dollars roll in. Sure we complain about what we see on the field, but as fans and consumers we have so fed the beast that it now is above accountablity, and well beyond reason.
According to Young, “How do I start here? I can say this because the league officials have gone to sleep. Lemme just go right at this: There’s a lot of people in the league who would rather break the union. There’s a lot of people who don’t feel like the officiating is on-field personnel, they feel like it’s a commodity. But more importantly, everything about the NFL now, it’s inelastic for demand. There’s nothing that they can do to hurt the demand for the game. So the bottom line is, they don’t care. Player safety? Doesn’t matter in this case. Bring the Division 3 officials? Doesn’t matter. Because in the end, you’re still gonna watch the game, we’re gonna all complain and moan, and gripe and say there’s all these problems, and all the coaches will say it, the players will say it… Doesn’t matter. So just go ahead, gripe all you want, I’m gonna rest. Let them eat cake.” Young then went on to say, “…It’s inelastic. There’s nothing that changes the demand for the NFL. So they want to break the union, they want to send a message to them, they don’t care about player safety in the case of bringing in Division 3 officials, because it doesn’t affect the desire for the game. If it affected the desire for the game, they’d come up with a few million dollars.”
While the first week of the season passed with only a few officiating gaffes, Week Two was simply a disaster, from top to bottom. And it is not likely to get better. The replacement officials are truly not to blame; they are doing the best job they possibly can, but they are not equipped to be doing that job at all. The players are learning what they can get away with, and they challenge the replacement officials for control of the game at every turn. In two games this weekend, including the Monday night disaster, officials completely lost all semblance of control over the game they were officiating, and the Monday night game in particular became a contest of wills between the officials and Broncos’ Head Coach John Fox.
The two sides are believed to now be only hundreds of thousands of dollars apart in terms of financial considerations, and perhaps further in terms of the accountability of officials. But the NFL is refusing to negotiate, knowing that it can simply sit back and wait out the union, ready to claim victory when the union eventually caves in to league demands, and we as fans, hungry for the game we love, are unwittingly facilitating this union busting.
I got on Ray Lewis and Joe Flacco pretty hard for their comments following Sunday’s loss, because I felt they were transferring responsibility for their own poor performance unjustly onto the officials, plus Lewis was dead wrong about one of the calls he was angry about. But that doesn’t mean the game was officiated well, or that Flacco’s and Lewis’ broader point isn’t spot on. Better taken were the comments of Giants’ defenders Mathias Kiwanuka and Justin Tuck, who had the benefit of complaining after a victory, and in putting responsibility where it belonged – on Roger Goodell’s shoulders. “There’s no doubt the integrity of the game has been compromised not having the regular officials out there,” Kiwanuka told the New York Daily News. “We’ve got to get that taken care of.” Justin Tuck agreed. “I am not necessarily mad at the replacement officials,” said Tuck. “I am more upset with the NFL for not handling this and taking care of this in due time.”
The players should be upset with Goodell, as should fans. For all that Goodell has done to promote player safety, it now rings hollow with his decision to place money and personal agendas ahead of the safety he has trumpeted. Goodell sees himself as untouchable and unimpeachable, and is thumbing his nose not just at the officials, but at the players and the fans as well.
It’s a good thing that the NFL is not a publicly traded business. If it were, I think I know more than a few shareholders who would be calling for a vote of “No Confidence” in our CEO. Goodell is hurting the integrity of the game, putting players in physical jeopardy, and is insulting the NFL fan base. It’s a sad state of events, and while I would like to hold out hope that both parties will appeal to reason and be reasonable, I fear the NFL is well past the point of no return in its desires to strip the officials of their leverage, while depriving fans the best possible product.
Finally, to paraphrase my step-daughter, here’s a little rhyme for Roger Goodell to consider:
Roses are red
Violets are blue
Rhyming is hard
So pay the zebras!