I’m not celebrating the return of the referees.
Don’t get me wrong - I’d rather have them working, and I’m glad to see them get over on the NFL. But I’m saddened by the notion that, “Now we can just go back to watching the games.”
The NFL is the behemoth of sports. It makes the most money, it has the most fans, it has the biggest sponsorship. And whenever it decides that it isn’t getting the everything it wants in a deal, it resorts to bully economics. It’s an oligarchy, run by some of the richest people in America, and they haven no problem locking out the players, locking out the refs, and locking out the fans. And if you’re unfamiliar with that dynamic, you’ve never had your TV blacked out by the home team. I envy you.
The NFL is so powerful, they purposely damaged the quality of the game, forcing amateurs to enforce the rules of men that were too fast - and as it proved - too good at hiding their hands. And yet, we’ll all be watching our teams this weekend as if nothing happened for the league, all is well. Not only did they try to use the Replacement Refs as a way to crush the leverage of a union, they were able to make those refs the face of the transgression. From Facebook, to Twitter, to the message boards - fans went crazy, all-capping obscenities, tossing around the word “scab” and wishing horrible things on their families, while a multi-billion dollar organization waited for men to cave on their pensions.
The replacement refs were never the problem. These guys didn’t quit their day-jobs to ref NFL games once a week. In fact, most of them were reffing high school games, and low-level college games during the week. No wonder they were talking to LeSean McCoy about their fantasy teams - they’re real lives didn’t skip a beat! The NFL needed them in a pinch, and now that it doesn’t - they’re on the scrap heap. It turns out that the NFL means “Not For Long” - for refs as well.
It’s just the latest reminder of how brutal ‘America’s Sport’ truly is. The commissioner is there - as he has stated many times - to “Protect the Shield.” Which often times, funny enough, means defending the owners’ interests. The most powerful elevator operator, in all the world. Keeping the plebeians at bay, while gate-keeping for America’s.
And what benefits do the fans reap from this staunch defense of “The Shield”?
Just three weeks ago Goodell was - now famously - reassuring fans (and media) that nobody tunes in to watch the officials. Which is is true. But by locking out the referees, he forced us into a position of tuning in, and only being able to see the referees. We got botched flags, dangerous no-calls, and bumbling explanations through three weeks of NFL action that probably deserve an asterisk. The League got to try to tear down Referee’s pensions - because, as Goodell himself put it, “Not even yours truly” has one of those. They got to blast referees, give union-busting another shot, and they got you and me to tune in and watch the games, anyway.
That’s how strong the pull is. That’s how good the product is. So I’m not asking you to abstain from football. I’m not writing this to start a letter writing campaign, or a sit-in, or a national day of day of action where we all watch the Ryder Cup instead. Because, we’ve seen how the NFL deals with a unified front. Besides, the Giants play on Sunday Night Football… and I’m going to be watching, too.
But you know what? If they decide this new 401K plan for officials is too gaudy, they’ll lock them out again. And we’ll still watch, because the NFL stands for “Never ****ing Loses.”
“The Shield” is undefeated.
That’s what you should be thinking about - that’s what we should all be thinking about - this Sunday, as we sit down for another 3-to-10 hours of football. There is nothing this league can do, no price it can make us pay, no way in which it can debase our love and affection - that will keep us from worshiping Our Game. And that - for a moment, at least - makes me not want to watch.