When it comes to public opinion, there are no formulas and little objectivity. People think what they think, and they cling to the facts that support their views.
It doesn’t matter if the facts are wrong or outweighed by other facts. People think what they want to think, and once they’ve established a line of thought it’s hard to turn it around.
That dynamic is becoming increasingly important when it comes to the lockout of the NFL’s officials because more and more people now think that it needs to end.
Every Monday during the season, I get up too early and head back down to 30 Rock for a visit with the fine folks at Morning Joe. After Week One and Week Two, there was no talk about the officials. Today, despite one of the most compelling slate of games in recent (or distant) memory, the Willie Geist, Mike Barnicle, and Andrea Mitchell wanted to talk primarily about the mistakes made by the replacement officials. (Mika Brzezinski didn’t have anything to add, primarily because she has no interest in the NFL.)
The fact that the dispute has crossed over to a mainstream news show is very bad for the NFL. Though the league has not (yet) had a game that was decided by a bad call at a critical moment, the thread of actual and perceived incompetence is getting thicker and more consistent, with big mistakes happening even though the league supervisor who is in direct contact with an eighth official on the sidelines moved as of Week Three into the replay booth.
They say it’s better to be lucky than good. The NFL has been lucky that the replacement officials, who aren’t good, have yet to clearly cause a team to lose a game.
But that may not matter. The tidal wave of public sentiment is growing. And the league needs to fix this before any further damage is done to the game.
The locked-out officials have a stake in this, too. As the labor dispute continues, fans will be more and more likely to scrutinize every mistake the regular officials make, and there will be a loud portion of the NFL audience that now has plenty of ammunition to legitimize the rants against the refs. Already, the pressure will be greater than it ever has been. As this mess lingers, the pressure awaiting the locked-out officials only will grow.
And even though the NFL has done its best to tune out the external criticism, it’s fair to wonder whether the complaints being made publicly are mirrored by private communications from owners and team executives to the league office. Although the NFL has managed to muzzle the non-players whose interests directly ride on the performance of the replacements, it’s safe to say they’re not being silent in their discussions with the powers-that-be on Park Avenue.
UPDATE 8:53 a.m. ET: Further proof that the officiating debacle has become mainstream news comes from the fact that the main headline on Drudge is “Football Follies.”