Yes, the lockout of NFL officials has become a major news story. It has been a top story on NBC’s Today the past two days, and on Wednesday NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith appeared on CBS This Morning.
Despite a suggestion from Packers offensive lineman T.J. Lang that the team could boycott games, Smith said players won’t refuse to play. “Absolutely not,” Smith said of the possibility, via SportsBusiness Daily. “I’m not sure that it’s ever a good idea to punish our fans because we’re mad at the owners.”
Smith also reiterated the concern for player safety. “The way we look at this issue is a little bit beyond just a bad call on a Monday night. The referees on the field are the first responders for health and safety for a group of players where we know that virtually every player . . . will be injured at work,” Smith said.
And that remains the biggest concern regarding the use of third-tier-and-worse replacements. Last year, amid criticism of the NFL’s failure to notice that former Chargers offensive lineman Kris Dielman should have been removed from a game against the Giants with a concussion (Dielman later had a seizure on the flight home), the league charged the officials with spotting whether players should be evaluated for head injuries. The replacements, already overwhelmed by the demands of working NFL games, simply don’t have the time or the ability to press pause and point to a player and say, “Go get checked out for a concussion.”
That said, we don’t buy the common complaint that the failure of replacements to flag illegal hits creates a safety concern. The regular officials miss those calls from time to time, and the ultimate safety net on this specific safety issue is the league office, which dispenses five-figure fines (and, as Joe Mays knows, suspensions) regardless of whether a flag is thrown.
Moreover, there’s an inconsistency between complaining about safety but willingly continue to work in an unsafe environment. At some point, the NFLPA needs to convert its words into action. Whether it’s filing a grievance under the CBA, a lawsuit, or a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board, something needs to be done.
If it’s not, eventually one or more players could decide to sue the union.