Spoiler Update: NFL refs return to action tonight.
The debacle that has become the NFL referee's lockout will hopefully end before any real damage is done to the sport or its players. However, stepping back for a moment, we see that the greed of a $9.3 billion dollar a year enterprise and the owners who run it fits into a pattern of recent labor events that aren't nearly as well known.
Consider the plight of the workers at the Stella D'Oro factory in the Bronx. A few years ago, the new owners of the company decided to draw a line in the sand, much as the NFL owners are doing now. Unfortunately, those workers didn't have people in media writing daily about their situation. Eventually, the bad guys won, the factory closed, and dozens of unionized workers lost the ability to feed their families. There are other examples, but this one stands out because it happened in New York.
I knew there was going to trouble with the "replacement refs" before the regular season started. I was watching a pre-season game (the teams involved don't really matter), when a penalty was called. The ref who was going to make the announcement stepped into the camera frame, opened his mic, and promptly froze. I mean froze for an embarrassing period of time. That was but a harbinger of things to come.
The criticism of the replacements (some call them scabs) started as a whisper, and by the end of the games on Sunday had turned into a roar. Penalty miscalculations, times out granted that shouldn't have been, a helmet to helmet collision with no penalty call was bad enough.
Then came this past Monday. The Green Bay Packers and the Seattle Seahawks came right down to the final play of the game. A pass into the end zone and a blown call later, the story of the replacement refs ceased to become just a sports item, and moved into the realm of the larger American consciousness. The question now becomes how long will the NFL continue to lock out their legitimate refs? Do they figure that the integrity of the game will withstand this short term blip? Or are they miscalculating, letting this drag on until either players are hurt or another game is decided by a blown call?
I'd like to think they'll come to their senses and get this thing settled. What do you think?
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