By now most sports fans have heard about the NFL scab-referee debacle. In case you haven’t, the NFL locked out the top-tier professional referees once the employment contract between the two parties ended before the start of this season. Replacement refs have been used during the pre-season and for the first three weeks of the regular games. It’s been disastrous.
This past week was particularly bad. Illegal hits and tackles were rampant due to players testing the limits of the scab-refs and finding they could get away with unsportsmanlike play. An Oakland Raider receiver was hospitalized with a brain injury because of a hit to the head. Another player had part of his ear-lobe ripped off when he was illegally hit on the side of his head. American professional football with the big and fast participants can get extremely brutal when the referees controlling the game are not respected. And that’s now happening. The players don’t respect the authority of the replacement refs because they make bad calls and are indecisive.
Now, the NFL team owners are finally coming to the table and talking with the professional referees they locked out. What brought is all to a head was the last game of the week on Monday night when millions of people witnessed a final second play that gave the win to the wrong team due to bad decisions by the scab-refs. It was awful. Even members of the winning team said they were given a gift because replacements didn’t interpret the play correctly.
Why is this issue important? The NFL by itself is an $11 billion industry and if you consider gaming, food and beverage, fantasy football and other fringe markets, we’re talking about a $20 billion market. It’s a big part of our economy and integrity of the game is paramount.
I find two things ironic about what’s happened in the past few weeks. First, what brought the two parties back to the discussion table was the bad call that put the Green Bay Packers on the losing end of that Monday night game. There are 32 teams in the NFL and 31 of them are owned by very rich men and only one team is from a small market and is owned by the community… that team is the Packers. The little market “people’s team” pays the ultimate price because of the greedy rich.
The second ironic aspect of recent events is how the NFL parallels Big Business. The rich team owners locked out the real refs because they didn’t want to increase pay, wanted to have the ability to replace refs at will and wanted to stop paying into pensions. Keep in mind, NFL refs make anywhere from $25K to $100K which is peanuts compared to owners and players. The owners are bullying the little guys. See the parallel? Big Business pensions have been replaced with 401Ks which are cheaper for business and riskier for employees. They are also trying to make union bargaining illegal which minimizes worker rights and limits collective wage-benefit negotiations.
I’ve always said, “football emulates life” so I guess it’s not a stretch to say that NFL greed parallels the new American economy. What a bummer.