John Anderson opened Monday night’s West Coast SportsCenter broadcast with “The Seahawks get the win, the NFL gets the loss” — and to many, that’s exactly how it felt. On Monday’s “The Young Turks,” Cenk Uygur and Ben Mankiewicz did a segment on the controversy surrounding the NFL officials’ union strike and the shoddy work by the replacements in the first three weeks of play. However, no one could have known that Monday night’s game would end in such a way as to crystallize the problem in one singular play.
For those who didn’t watch and haven’t turned on the TV since, here’s what went down: Seahawks QB Russell Wilson lobbed the ball downfield on fourth down with no time left in regulation, a Hail Mary pass in a desperate attempt to save the game for his team. Players from both teams leaped for the the ball in the end zone and as they hit the ground, Seattle receiver Golden Tate and Green Bay safety M.D. Jennings were left wrestling for possession.
While it is true that in the case of simultaneous possession, the possession goes to the offensive runner (Tate), it appeared to many fans that Jennings had initial possession of the catch, pinned the ball to his body and Tate simply got his hands in afterward in an attempt to wrestle the ball away. What happened next is the image that many are posting as the epitome of how these refs are failing to perform:
As you can see, one ref is signaling a touchdown, the other is making the signal for an interception, which would have ended the game in Green Bay’s favor (not to mention won my fantasy matchup). However, the touchdown call was made on the field, and they were unable to overturn it on review. Mike McCarthy led the Packers off the field, obviously disgusted with the loss, and for a moment, the replacement refs walked off the field as well. Sportscasters noted that there needed to be an extra point kicked for the game to technically end, however with only one team left on the field, they began conducting post-game interviews with Pete Carroll and Russell Wilson until 11 Packers begrudgingly came back onto the field and sealed their fate.
It was as close to complete chaos as I’ve ever seen in a professional football game, and the melee extended to the social media universe. Within minutes, #BoycottTheNFL was trending, as was #Seahawks, #NFL and #MondayNightFootball. Seemingly the only positive tweets came from members of the Seahawks organization itself, who understandably had to defend a W on the record, however disputed it may be.
—Russell Wilson(@DangeRussWilson) September 25, 2012
Though this was an incredibly disappointing outcome for Packers fans (and anyone who had the D in a close matchup), it is far from the most concerning consequence of having nonunion refs on the field for the first three weeks of play. Dangerous hits like the one on Oakland receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey are going uncalled, and more players are learning which penalties they can get away with due to the refs’ inexperience.
What’s worse, there is no financial incentive for the team owners to solve these problems. As Steve Young put it after the Broncos-Falcons game on Sunday, “There’s nothing that they can do to hurt demand for the game. So the bottom line is, they don’t care. Players’ safety? Doesn’t matter in this case.”
Cenk noted Young’s comments on yesterday’s show:
“If Steve Young is right and they are trying to break the union … they’re ironically proving the union’s case.”
Young was on the West Coast wrap-up of last night’s game, and he and Trent Dilfer were defeated and depressingly so. Two former players who are incredibly passionate about the game they played for so many years couldn’t even muster up the enthusiasm to weigh in on the game they had just watched (which to be fair, was spectacularly played by Seattle’s defense).
It’s impossible to call for the union refs to come back without addressing their demands, which are much the same as in most union labor strikes: salaries and pensions. The league currently treats its 119 referees as part-time employees, but as Mankiewicz points out, “They could hire 200 full-time referees at $250,000 a year, it would cost them $50 million a year and that would be less than 1 percent of the NFL’s revenue.”
The starting salary for an NFL official is less than it is for NBA, NHL and MLB officials. Season lengths and physical implications of the different sports are a factor to be sure, but as Mankiewicz condensed it yesterday, “The NFL, obviously being the most powerful and significant sports league in the world, a giant marketing tool, needs to know … that if you don’t have quality referees, you diminish the product.”
Players aren’t the only one getting hurt in this lockout. Former NFL-ers like Young and Dilfer, sportscasters, and fans all over the world are mourning the loss of integrity in the game as a whole. Implications of this could be long-term if the NFL refuses to implement long-term solutions to labor union complaints, and these consequences could become very serious.
As Mankiewicz made the point yesterday:
“I think the NFL is looking at a real problem. If they don’t pay their referees long-term, real, significant wages, make them full-time employees, they are susceptible to gamblers who would love to turn an NFL referee to be able to swing a game in their favor. I think it’s an unspoken danger that’s going on here.”
NFL fans on both sides of the aisle hope the refs’ lockout is settled soon. -bo
—Barack Obama (@BarackObama) September 25, 2012
Politically, this is being touted as a nonpartisan issue. As you can see from the president’s tweet, which was one of many, politicians everywhere are as upset as every other football fan across the country. However, in some cases the statements they are making on social media outlets such as Facebook and Twitter fly directly in the face of their anti-union policies. BoldProgressive.org put together this list of Four Prominent Republicans Who Suddenly Love Union Workers Thanks to the NFL Referee Lockout. One of the most notable is anti-labor Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, who saw his beloved Packers go to 1-2 last night due solely to nonunion #scabrefs (as Twitter has begun addressing them). If only public school teachers played on Sundays …
The NFL released a statement Tuesday morning upholding the Seahawks’ win (although they did admit that Tate should have been called for offensive pass interference for shoving Green Bay safety Sam Shields to the ground before the catch, which would have negated the touchdown/interception altogether). While disappointing to many, this ruling was to be expected. There have been many seemingly erroneous calls made in the first three weeks of game play, any of which could have changed the outcome of the game. To overturn this win would be a slippery slope that I think could only end with a giant asterisk next to this season as a whole (which, to be fair, is still very possible) and possibly negation of all the games played with the replacements.
Cenk put it simply yesterday: ”The NFL is a nine-BILLION-dollar industry. The issue with the NFLRA is a matter of $62,000 per team.” This is a matter of greed, pure and simple, and with inelastic industries like professional sports, I believe it is up to the consumer to send a clear message about this strike and how badly it is affecting the safety and integrity of the game we all love so much. As much as it would bum this fan out, maybe it truly is time to #BoycottTheNFL.
Watch Cenk’s breakdown of the referee union dispute on Tuesday’s “The Young Turks.”