Sunday, September 30, 2012

The Football Referees Lockout

The internet was hopping after last Monday night’s football game in which the bumbling scabbing substitute referees mis-called the end of the game and cost the Packers a much-needed victory. Suddenly the lockout of the real football referees was the biggest topic of conversation on the ‘net. I noticed someone complaining on Facebook that she wished that people starving to death or being bombed or falsely imprisoned in other parts of the world could receive as much attention as the football ref situation. She was implying of course that there are much more important matters that should concern us than substitute referees in football. In fact the referee situation has broader implications that make it a serious issue, even though someone who has no interest in football might fail to see them.

The NFL locked out the professional, qualified, fully trained refs when contract negotiations broke down. Instead of working harder to resolve the situation and instead of agreeing to a compromise, the NFL brought in scab refs (the substitutes). Where I come from we call this union busting. The contract negotiations had two sticking points. One was a failure to agree about ref pensions (the NFL wants to convert the refs’ pension plans to 401Ks) and the other had to do with how refs are evaluated to decide whether or not they can keep refereeing (and how new refs are trained and hired). Serious labor bargaining issues any way you look at it.

The substitute refs are high school refs, community college refs, and refs who work in the women’s football league (affectionately nicknamed the Lingerie Football League or LFL). Some of these sub refs had actually been tossed out of prior ref jobs for incompetence. Not only were the sub refs botching calls like crazy, but they were also failing to call many penalties. The Monday Night game play in question hinged partly on a penalty call that was not made. With the sub refs letting a lot of penalties slide, many players were taking advantage of the situation and doing all kinds of things that the professional refs would have called them on because they knew they had a good chance of getting away with these illegal and unsafe moves. As a result players got hurt. For instance, more of the dangerous helmet-to-helmet hits now banned by the NFL were taking place. In my opinion, that’s exactly why the Raiders’ Darrius Heyward-Bey got knocked out cold last week. Fortunately he did not break his neck, as it at first appeared, but instead suffered a mere concussion. He is still out of the game. Lucky he wasn’t paralyzed from the illegal helmet-to-helmet butt.

The football ref lockout situation provides a cautionary tale about where Scott Walker of Wisconsin’s union busting activities will lead. Locking out the trained professionals instead of negotiating fair work conditions and benefits is a dangerous practice in many other arenas. Education. Health care. Construction trades. People fought and died for fair labor practices. The situation this past week with the football refs punched up once again the importance of honoring labor and supporting the right of workers to engage in collective bargaining. Fortunately, after the fiasco at Monday night’s game, the NFL quickly compromised with the professional refs, signed a contract, and had them back on the field by Thursday evening for the Ravens v. Browns game. And they are back on the job today and for the rest of the season.

Honestly, I love football. And the ref situation is a perfect example of why I love football. The game offers up life lessons every week. I know that I seem like an unlikely candidate to follow football; and that people can’t believe it when they find out what a fanatic I am. Well folks, get over it. One of my favorite footballisms goes like this, “It’s a game of inches.” One of the biggest football lessons that’s applicable to life.

In this image you see one scab ref calling a touchdown while the other scab ref 
calls an interception (at cross purposes for those of you who don't know football). 
Sad but also funny! A total oy vey moment.
Both of these refs completely missed a penalty that 
would have made both of these calls moot.

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