During the NFL's most recent offseason, the New York Giants
reloaded their roster in preparation for another Super Bowl run and nearly every
other team looked to rebuild in hopes of hoisting the Lombardi Trophy at
season's end. Meanwhile, the New Orleans Saints watched as their Super Bowl-caliber team was ripped apart in the name of player safety.
The NFL's primary focus over the past few seasons has been
to protect its players, and for good reason. While former players like Junior
Seau, Ray Easterling and Dave Duerson represent the most devastating effects of
the NFL's long-standing disregard for safety concerns, there are plenty of
former NFLers today that continue to deal with the traumas of their playing
So when Goodell and the NFL took such swift and decisive
action against the Saints players, coaches and front office for their role in
the alleged Bountygate scandal, the immediate reaction around the league was
one of approval and understanding. Since then, though, the NFL's
"hard-line stance" has completely unraveled.
The league's hard-fought battle with Saints players, who
have combated and won appeals on their suspensions in connection with the
bounty program, was just the tip of the iceberg. The NFL's most blatant
disregard for player safety, though, has come in the form of replacement
As the NFL schedule crept closer and closer to the Sept. 5
kickoff, the general consensus was that Roger Goodell and the owners would finally
depart from their replacement referee charade and settle with the locked-out
referees. No other option seemed reasonable.
Now, two weeks into the regular season, the replacement
officials remain on the field, and regrettably so to anyone watching. Meanwhile, the normal, more experienced refs
sit idly by, awaiting the day that the league finally comes to its senses and
returns to the honorable, high quality product it was just eight months ago. But
the league won't budge.
As if the preseason weren't bad enough under the watchful
eyes of these under-qualified stand-ins. The first week of football resulted in
some discontent around the league, but not nearly enough to cause a stir. So,
with another week of football under their belts, the refs should conceivably
have improved heading into Week 2 of the regular season, right?
Well, if a botched touchdown call in the Rams game
and Santonio Holmes' blatant attempts to influence officials' pass-interference calls
don't give you a clear view, then maybe Monday night's Broncos-Falcons debacle
will change your mind.
The second week of the replacement refs experiment went down
as an utter disaster. Those calls alone are enough to make fans turn in
disgust, not to mention the numerous other mistakes that haven't been written
about or captured on YouTube. And that's
not even considering one ref being outed as a Saints fan
and another divulging his fantasy football failures to LeSean McCoy
during a game.
Even Hall of Fame quarterback and ESPN analyst Steve Young
is irate about the disgraceful performance
these refs have put on, calling out the NFL's commitment to safety after
Monday's disastrous excuse for a football game. And the ESPN guys are usually
the worst offenders of kowtowing to their NFL partners.
The count of mistakes by the replacement officials is almost
endless. Yet the league remains firm in their belief in the replacements refs'
"credibility," and unwavering in their demands to the NFL Referees
Some call the NFL's stance stubborn. I believe it's
The owners are playing a zero-sum game at this point. Sure,
fans will continue to watch the games and buy tickets. Football is football,
turn off the faucet for a while and people will wait for it to provide
sustenance once again. But the integrity of the game, and the league for that
matter, are taking a significant hit in image and reputation. Just ask Ray
Players and fans alike are getting fed up with the hogwash
these refs are serving every week and no one knows what it will take for the league to finally move from its place atop a stubborn, greedy pedestal.
A gruesome injury? Will that be the
straw that finally breaks greedy camel's back? Well, that's what we're heading
Thus far, the replacement officials have not only missed some
of the easier calls like touchdowns or pass interference but the referees also reportedly don't even know to penalize hits on defenseless receivers.
That doesn't mean there haven't been any hits on defenseless receivers, it just
means many have gone uncalled. Why, you ask? Well, in addition to a lack of knowledge about the rulebook, the majority of the
replacement officials just don't have the keen eyes that the NFL's everyday
officiating crews seem to.
The replacements aren't trained to the same extent of the
NFL's typical officials. They don't see the field as well, often find themselves
out of position on plays or looking in the wrong places on certain calls and
just don't have proper control on the players. The Falcons-Broncos game was a
perfect example of those characteristics.
There had to have been four or five missed pass-interference
penalties, a number of overturned reviews, including a Demaryius Thomas
feet-tap touchdown grab in the end zone, and even a benches-clearing brawl —
well, sort of — that broke out at midfield.
Control is clearly not in the hands of these officials, and
ultimately somebody is going to get hurt. Whether it's a head-hunting defender
or an offensive lineman going low on the goal line, cheap shots have already
been thrown and, just like with a substitute teacher in middle school, the
players are going to keep pushing to see where the line ends.
Enough is enough. The NFL is a $9 billion industry and the
holdout of a few referees looking for the security of a pension and a few
million dollars more to spread around isn't an absurd request.
The NFL product is suffering and eventually somebody is
going to pay a pretty serious price for the errors of the owners. I certainly
hope it doesn't get to that point, but with the direction the games have taken
it seems all but inevitable at this point.
The Saints players will face their punishment from the
league later this week, and the concern for "player safety" will once
again appear to be at the forefront. But in reality, that concern is nothing
but a mirage.