Marcus Hayes: Who's losing most in NFL officials' labor woes? You

Replacement officials struggle to sort things out at end of Packers-Seahawks game Monday night.
Replacement officials struggle to sort things out at end of Packers-Seahawks game Monday night. (ASSOCIATED PRESS)
Posted: September 27, 2012

YOU LOSE.

As with every stalemated labor battle involving entertainment, you lose.

Sometimes there are collateral victims: parking attendants, stadium janitors, food-service workers, and, to a lesser extent, freelance sports writers.

And you.

Not this time.

It's only you.

Two marquee teams with superstar quarterbacks lost prime-time games on consecutive nights Sunday and Monday, creating a crescendo in the maelstrom of criticism over the absence of the regular officials.

Understand this: The Ravens' field goal that beat the Patriots was wide right. Seahawks receiver Golden Tate never had possession of the football. M.D. Jennings intercepted it, and his Packers should have won.

Now, the Patriots and Packers, preseason favorites to play deep into the postseason, have losses that could shift the balance of the season's outcome, even if it only means a playoff seed. Home field in New England and Green Bay in January is a huge advantage.

These two games culminated 3 weeks of comical confusion, of outrageous inefficiency, of laughable ignorance.

To your detriment.

What about the players? Aren't they endangered pawns here?

"For anyone to say the safety of the players is of the utmost importance to the NFL, well, they aren't doing that," former Eagles safety Brian Dawkins said.

Dawk is disgusted that the game to which he gave his best years has become a travesty of awkward stoppages, bad spots and cheap shots.

"The flow of the game is disrupted. They don't know where to put the ball. There was an obvious chop block that helped the Raiders beat the Steelers. Now, it's affecting wins and losses," Dawkins said. "What if those teams miss the playoffs?"

Indeed, many Ravens and Patriots players chose to play for those teams because they are teams that are expected to win. As usual, Dawkins has valid points.

But . . . let's see.

So far, the players have chosen to play a dangerous game, often against psychopathic opponents, that are being controlled by grievously unqualified officials.

Or, rather, barely controlled, considering the skirmishes, personal fouls and rampant off-the-ball brutality.

Chosen? That's right, chosen.

If the players really are worried about their safety, if they think the integrity of the game has been compromised, they can choose to not play. They can just not show up for work, collective bargaining agreement be damned.

In this concussion-addled age of litigation, what sane judge would serve an injunction forcing the players back to work as per their CBA if the players voice concerns about injury?

Maybe something is brewing there. DeMaurice Smith, head of the player's association, Tuesday issued a statement that read, in part:

"The decision by the NFL owners to lockout the referees jeopardizes your health and safety . . .

"It is the NFL's duty to provide a workplace that is as safe as possible . . .

"We are actively reviewing any and all possible actions to protect you."

Maybe he's going to ref when the Giants visit the Eagles Sunday night.

Notably, Smith and the NFLPA express no sympathy toward the locked-out officials.

Notably, Smith last year oversaw a negotiation that resulted in his own players' being locked out by these same owners.

Ah, the owners. The foolish, arrogant owners.

They cultivated a legion of part-time employees, specializing and subspecializing their tasks until the pool of plausible replacements exists of . . . no one. Not even top college refs, en masse, would provide adequate officiating. The NFL game is too fast, the rule differences too many. The cream of college officials become NFL refs; there would be too much the skim.

Again, the owners created jobs that can be filled only by the workforce they have locked out. And the owners' leverage is . . . what?

The officials' desire to have a second income? A second pension? A small work force?

Whatever the owners' leverage, it is evaporated.

Which means the officials will win.

Too bad, really.

Most NFL officials officiate as a second career. Often, their primary jobs are lucrative, white-collar ones - lawyers, executives and managers - that let them take weekends off.

So, in the midst of one of the worst economic environments in U.S. history, when workers are watching pensions collapse and their paychecks shrink and taking forced furloughs, what you have is a small group of men who make in the neighborhood of $150,000.

In their spare time.

That's three times the median American household income. More than six times the income of a family of four living at the poverty line.

You know what the dad in that family of four does for fun on Sunday? If he's not working a third or fourth job, he probably watches football.

Sympathize with the regular officials? Hardly.

The replacement officials?

Maybe, a little.

This hapless group of overmatched aspirants, refugees from such football outlands as the Lingerie Football League, have forsaken their assumed dignity and their privacy for the chance to . . . to what?

To make a few bucks? To be on TV?

Yes.

Sad, that. But, you know what?

Lockout or strike, they are, finally, scabs. Even today, "scab" is one of the dirtiest words in America.

The scabs stunk in the preseason, and the scabs stunk in the first 3 weeks, and, coincidentally, they stunk like rotten gorgonzola in prime time.

They have stunk all along.

One of the lingering images of the Eagles' season so far is referee Mike Shepherd, in the second quarter at Arizona on Sunday, forcing the Eagles to accept a holding call. On the play, the Eagles sacked quarterback Kevin Kolb for an 8-yard loss. The official play-by-play states: "Offensive holding . . . No Play."

So, instead of putting the Cardinals in third-and-24, it was second-and-26. Two plays later, the Cards gained 22 yards, then punted, decisively flipped the field. The Eagles couldn't break their 10-yard line, quickly went three-and-out, punted, and the Cards scored a touchdown off the resultant choice field position.

It was ridiculous.

To be fair, the officials usually get the call right. The mechanics are clunky, the verbiage ineloquent, the time lapse endless. But usually, with the extra official on the sideline and their eyes in the sky, they get the down and distance right, the time on the clock right, the interpretation of the rulebook right.

The wrong official might call a hold, and they seem to be masochistic when it comes to collisions and quarterback safety, and they apparently have no idea what pass interference is, either way.

In fact, the NFL Tuesday acknowledged that Tate blatantly committed pass interference before the ball reached the end zone, which should have nullified the play, period. Pass interference, of course, is not reviewable.

The statement clarified that, while simultaneous possession cannot be reviewed in the field of play, it can be reviewed in the end zone.

And that it was reviewed. Correctly.

The NFL Officiating Department reviewed the video [Tuesday] and supports the decision not to overturn the on-field ruling following the instant replay review.

 The NFL is telling you that the officials got it right.

The NFL is insulting your intelligence; you, who, in this instance, are the only victim of the referee lockout.

What's that awful, reeking smell? It's not the officiating.

It is the NFL's conceit.

Your recourse?

When you watch, hold your nose.


Contact Marcus Hayes at hayesm@phillynews.com. For recent columns, go to www.philly.com/MarcusHayes.

 

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