The league’s decision to remove side judge Brian Stropolo from the Saints-Panthers game because Stropolo is a Saints fan creates a problem for the NFL.
But the bigger problem isn’t that Stropolo is a fan. The problem is that he exercised poor judgment in posting pictures on his Facebook page indicating that he’s a Saints fan.
As NBC officiating consultant Jim Daopoulos explained it in the viewing room moments ago, every official has a rooting interest. But that gets set aside when the officials are being graded on every call they make, and when they’re trying to continue to be NFL officials. In fact, Daopoulos said that officials often are tempted to go the other way when a team they “like” is involved, overcompensating for the rooting interest.
For Stropolo, he should have kept the pictures to himself or, better yet, not posed for them at all (especially if they were taken since he became a replacement official). The fact that Stropolo exercised poor judgment in that regard should make the league wonder whether he may exercise poor judgment when he’s back on the field.
The league’s decision also opens a potential can of worms as it relates to the use of replacement officials moving forward. If they have rooting interests, should the NFL keep them from working the games of the teams they like and don’t like?
The problem with that approach is that the league possibly would have to shuffle the deck each week, reconfiguring crews in order to avoid any appearance of impropriety.
Either way, it’s a common reality for NFL officials. But the regular officials have the sense not to proclaim whatever rooting interest they may have. Once they get those assignments, they become fans of keeping their jobs. For replacement officials, who necessarily are working on a short-term basis (unless the lockout doesn’t end any time soon), that incentive to permanently set aside rooting interest simply isn’t there.