If Roger Goodell and his filthy-rich bosses don’t have the regular officials back on the field by Sunday’s games, then the only thing that will lead them to settle the NFL’s dispute with the refs is a senseless, crippling injury to a player, because a criminal act on the field by the scabs has already occurred.
The Pop Warner crowd has been bad since the first pre-season game, but Monday night in Seattle, they drifted from mere incompetence to absolute larceny, stealing a game from Green Bay with a scandalous call on the final play. The outrageous decision is the crowning achievement for the overmatched arbiters, in a season that has been littered with ineptitude and a growing sense of hubris from a league that cares not what happens on the field, so long as TV ratings stay high, and turnstiles keep spinning.
Since Goodell and the fat cats are committed to sullying the league with a referee performance level better suited for Horse Feathers than the NFL, it’s clear that they care not a whit about the media and fan fury that has arisen since pro football returned. If Monday’s game doesn’t send the league to the bargaining table with a commitment to finding common ground, then the only thing left to compel them is the maiming of a player, due to official incompetence.
ESPN’s Steve Young put it best last Monday when he stated that the league doesn’t care how loud the cries are from the hoi polloi and the press, because demand for NFL football is “inelastic” and therefore in no danger of waning due to poor officiating. So far, Young has been right. Fans are still showing up, TV sets are turning on, and perhaps most importantly, fantasy players continue to ingest every morsel of information offered up to them by the league’s many propaganda partners.
Goodell and the one percent want to break the referees. They want to make them full-time league employees, and they want to change their pension structure. They’re not too keen on big raises, either, even if players’ salaries continue to rise at a brisk rate, and the league’s revenues are soaring. By tolerating the Keystone Kops-style work of the unprepared and ill-equipped, they are relying on the power of the league name and understanding that no matter how bad it gets, fans aren’t going away.
Worse, they are defending these knuckleheads by fining those who have the temerity to criticize the horrendous performance. The league doesn’t care that coaches lose jobs these days with one bad season. If the NFL is being attacked, it will fight back. The funny thing is that the league’s reputation is taking a savage beating because of the obstinate stance taken against the refs. If somebody hasn’t explained the term “Pyrrhic victory” to Goodell, Jeffrey Lurie, Jerry Jones, Little Danny Snyder and the rest, then it’s time for a history lesson. When ESPN is criticizing you, there is a problem, because no one is more loyal to its business partners than the four-letter crowd.
There were reports Monday that Goodell had joined negotiations with representatives of the referees’ union. That was a nice PR ploy by the commissioner, but when news came out that the two sides remained far apart on substantive issues, it became clear the move was designed to masquerade as good faith, rather than to practice it. It will take some big movement by both sides to solve this, and the NFL doesn’t seem to willing to take steps forward right now.
The funny thing is that in most labor disputes, once one side has gained an upper hand, at least in the public eye, it can force a settlement. In this situation, the NFL couldn’t care less whether every NFL fan is irate over the poor officiating, so long as the money keeps flowing in. The last time I checked, there was no shortage of cash at the league’s Park Avenue offices, so don’t expect a lot.
In the meantime, the players are the ones at most risk. If games continue to spiral out of control, and the scab officials fail to keep a tight rein on proceedings, there could be a physical catastrophe. If that happens, then Goodell’s credibility evaporates, because all of his chatter about caring whether the players are safe will be exposed as a ploy to prevent future lawsuits. Maybe then, the league will see how horrible their truculence has been. I hope it doesn’t come to that.
But it might. After Monday night, anything is possible.