With the start of the regular season only eight days away and no signs of any progress toward ending the lockout of the game officials, more players are talking but there’s still no evidence that the NFLPA will be taking any action.
“I’ve said before that on a scale of 1 to 10, I think this is a 12,” NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith told the New York Times. “With the regular season approaching, my level of concern is only increasing.”
While that concern undoubtedly won’t give rise to a player walkout, it’s somewhat surprising that the increasingly-litigious NFLPA hasn’t taken some type of legal action aimed at forcing the league to fix this.
Players generally have not affirmatively been speaking out. The Times article from Sam Borden collects sound bites from various players who expressed concern in response to questions from the media. Borden properly balanced things out with the league’s sound bites about the replacements doing a “credible” job, with some refreshing candor.
“We will not come out and say they are without their warts, but we will say that we’ve seen improvement every week,” NFL V.P. of football operations Greg Anderson told the Times. “At the end of it, we are very confident that this group of current officials will be credible.”
Observers of the game generally are less confident. If we assume that the NFL has hired the best of the best officials, the NFL necessarily will be using something less than the best of the best, if the best of the best are locked out. Why play Russian Roulette with the safety of the players and the integrity of the game?
Of course, not everyone feels that way. And it’s spawned what could be the first documented case of Yahoo-on-Yahoo crime. Says Doug Farrar: “[T]he NFL’s replacement officials are turning the nation’s most popular and visible sport into a complete and utter joke.” Says Jason Cole: “The argument that NFL owners are messing with the integrity of the game in their negotiation with the NFL Referees Association is laughable.”
Cole asks, “When was the last time you went to a game and said, ‘Boy, that officiating was great’?”
It happens roughly as often as anyone goes to a game and says the long-snapping or the holding was great. The officials are part of the infrastructure that is supposed to exist in the background. We shouldn’t applaud the officiating. We shouldn’t notice it all.
The replacement officials are making us notice them, because they are making mistakes not only in the heat of the play but after the whistle is blown. The stage is simply too big for many of them. The challenge for the league remains getting them comfortable, quickly. As folks who are used to maneuvering around smaller, slower players with dozens of fans in the stands, the replacements need to get past the awe that Maximus and company experienced when they walked into the Coliseum for the first time.
Through three weeks, the magnitude of the games continues to invade the brains of folks who should be able to get the spot right and mark of penalties correctly and not call a touchback on a punt when the ball clearly was downed in the field of play. Our point continues to be that, regardless of who’s being unreasonable in the negotiations, the stewards of the game need to work this out.
That includes the locked-out officials. If they truly care about the game, they’ll find a way bridge the divide. And if the best offer the NFL has made ultimately isn’t good enough, they can always find another hobby for which they receive a ton of money.
Well, maybe they can’t.