Labor strife is running rampant in just about every sector of industry. The NHL will probably lock out their players at the end of this week. The CAW has urged its workers to prepare for a strike as a September 17th deadline approaches between the Union and the big three auto-makers in Detroit. Violence has become common place in a heated battle between diamond mine owners and their employees in South Africa. Closer to home, staff at the downtown Toronto Hyatt staged a one day walkout during the Toronto International Film Festival.
Obviously some of these matters are more serious than others – in the case of the miners in South Africa, people have lost their lives on both sides.
The NFL is not immune. After narrowly avoiding a work stoppage last year, Roger Goodell has played hardball with another group of employees who are integral to the NFL’s on-field product.
Undoubtedly the presence of replacement officials one week into the new season has been impossible to miss. Improperly signaled penalties, falsely awarded timeouts, and missed calls have drawn criticism from players and fans alike.
Reigning NFL MVP Aaron Rodgers is one of the players speaking out in the wake of the shoddy Week 1 officiating. During his weekly radio show on WAUK-AM in Milwaukee, Rodgers indicated the replacement officials didn’t understand the rules:
“It’s just frustrating when you’re positive that there’s either a missed call, or that the rule was not interpreted the way that it’s supposed to be interpreted,” Rodgers said. “There were multiple instances of that, and when you watch the film back, it’s frustrating. That being said, there were just some bizarre calls on both sides.”
Credit to Rodgers for not blaming the Packers loss to the 49ers on poor officiating, as he cited bad calls against both teams. He wasn’t alone. Bills DE Mario Williams underwhelmed in his debut for Buffalo, accumulating zero tackles, sacks, or pressures. Williams was quick to place the blame:
“Pass blocking doesn’t consist of illegal hands to the face just about every play, which, when somebody tells you that, and you’re five yards away from it, and you walk away like you don’t see him telling you you’re getting punched in the face every time, then that dictates somebody like myself having to take care of that on my own,” said Williams.”
Make no mistake, plenty of calls were missed. How Bryan Scott’s first-quarter interception against the Jets stood after booth replays clearly showed he failed to get both feet in bounds is mind boggling. But there is a larger issue here that the players are failing to address.
The league and the NFL referee’s association are at odds over compensation, pension benefits, and operational issues. The referees are part time employees – meaning most of them have 9-5 jobs during the week and log considerable travel time getting to stadiums across the United States. The NFL says they are offering the officials annual pay increases that could see experienced referees earn more $200,000 a year. That number is disputed by union reps, who state the league’s proposal would ultimately reduce their compensation.
The rhetoric and arguments as described above are commonplace in labor negotiations. The league has scheduled replacement officials through Week 3, indicating there is no settlement in sight.
Outside of complaining about the performance of the scabs, NFL players - or at least those who aren’t named Chris Kluwe, the Vikings punter who is frankly pretty damn awesome – remain conspicuously silent. One hypothesis indicates the players fear standing with the unionized refs will put them in the crosshairs of vengeful replacement officials who don’t appreciate being blasted and undermined at every turn.
As detailed by Dave Zirin, the NFLPA and NFLRA worked together in the lead up to the opening of the regular season, citing player safety as the main reason to end the lockout.
In this case the so called “bad guys” are the NFL owners, who continue to operate their franchises like the multimillion dollar companies there are. Unlike any other industry in the world, only 30 people – or ownership groups – are NFL owners. The league’s vigorous vetting process is unrivaled by the other professional sports leagues.
The owners, however, are not alone in their culpability. Yes, Goodell and the wealthy individuals he represents are on the wrong side of good in this one – but so are the players. After voicing their concern over the quality of the replacement referees in the preseason, we’ve yet to hear of a concerted effort on their part to bridge the gap. They are the reason the NFL is the most popular league in North America by a large margin. They are the reason the 30 teams in the NFL are among the most coveted franchises in the world.
If the players really are that upset over the state of officiating in the NFL one week in – and they should be, no doubt – it’s time they voice their displeasure with Goodell and their owners’ in the luxury boxes high above. It’s easy to blast the scabs, we’ve all done it. What’s harder, and what I would’ve expected the players to do after they faced their own labor impasse one year ago, is to fight for the professionals who are being jerked around by the same people who did the same thing to them.