It has taken me a few days, perhaps even weeks to finally get my thoughts out about the current referee lockout in the NFL and it’s mostly because the more I think about it, the harder it is to watch the sport. What a lot of people don’t realize is that what is happening in the NFL right now is actually much bigger than football. It’s about more than entertainment, referees and players, it’s about how we Americans view ourselves, our jobs and our future. After the Sunday Night Ravens v.s. Patriots game, and the Monday Night Packers vs. Seattle game we’ve reached a tipping point that has turned the NFL into a corporate sham, with the lockout just being the most recent example. And the worst part of all? It’s the fault of football fans, casual and dedicated that things have gotten this bad.
In case you missed the Today Show, ESPN, HLN and just about every newspaper or website in America, Monday Night Football, a modern day American tradition ended on one of the most bizarre and poorly called plays in the history of modern sports. This is not hyperbole, Michael Wilbon of the famous “Pardon the Interruption” talk show on ESPN noted that Monday night’s post NFL Sportscenter Show was the highest rated in the 30 plus year history of the network as people were so shocked and outraged by the call that multi-millions of people tuned in to ESPN to get an explanation of what happened. The play itself, which you can see below, is pretty simple.
The NFL locked out players last year, crying poor, claiming vast discrepancies in team profitability and otherwise playing up the “Job creators at risk” theme that has been the linchpin of the Romney campaign since the spring. In most cases the public wasn’t buying it, the NFL is a 9 billion dollar industry, no team has ever gone bankrupt and no owner has ever sold a team for less than they purchased it for. Yet, despite winning the PR battle and the legal battle on just about every front the NFL Players association chickened out at the last minute and signed a new collective bargaining agreement that gave them less play, fewer rights and a pittance in improved healthcare. But the fans said nothing. Everyone kept watching, kept buying overpriced jerseys and no collection action was brought against the league in the form of letter writing, emails or phone-calls. People just wanted their football back. I don’t blame anyone for that, it was a one-time event, and football is supposed to be about fun not politics. But now it’s gotten worse.
With the referee lockout the NFL, emboldened by getting away with their player lockout is just spitting in the face of fans, and the quality of their product because they know fans won’t care. The NFL owners have locked out the referees (and remember a lockout means the refs CAN’T work until they agree to owners terms, the complete opposite of a strike), the very people who enforce and explain the rules of the game while at the same time commissioner Roger Goodell claims that he cares about player safety and the integrity of the sport. The differences in the League offer and the officials offer aren’t that vast but what it really boils down to is the League wants to crush any and every organized labor force associated with the sport; first players, now referees, and next it’ll be concession stand workers if they can get away with it. Fans will complain but unless the league feels some real pressure, not just complaints but specifics “asks” about the product on the field nothing will change.
Football is a lot like designer clothes, the movie industry or even fast food. It’s a consumable good that we happily gobble up but don’t really want to know how it’s made because if we did it would offend our moral sensibilities. No one is going to stop watching football, but that’s not the only way to let these large corporate leaders know that they can’t get away with abusing their workers, putting out an inferior product and charging obscene prices for it. Call your state Senator (this is already happening in New Jersey), start a letter writing campaign with your fantasy football league, and even better call your sports betting place and say you’re afraid to bet because the referees are so bad right now you don’t know if you’re watching the NFL or wrestling. The NFL will respond to pressure from several angles, just like any corporation, and eventually come to terms with officials. In the end, this is in the hands of the people, the consumers and the workers. Are we going to get rolled over by another set of corporations just because they provide ‘entertainment’? Or will this be an example of American citizens standing up for themselves again and not being consumption minded sheep? We have 13 more weeks of the season to find out.
This article originally appeared online at Politic365.com.