The young NFL season is not going well. Three weeks in, a fierce controversy over the referee lockout — in which the league's professional officials have been replaced by less-experienced substitutes because of a contract dispute — has officially reached its boiling point. In the last play of a "Monday night fiasco" between the Seattle Seahawks and the Green Bay Packers, a bad call by replacement refs essentially robbed the Packers of a victory. The Seahawks, trailing by five points as time expired, heaved a Hail Mary pass toward the end zone. A Seattle receiver shoved one defender out of the way — a fairly obvious penalty that was not called — while Green Bay defender M.D. Jennings appeared to grab the ball for a victory-saving interception. But not so fast. Seattle receiver Golden Tate got a hand on the ball, eventually wrestled it free in a dog pile, and seemingly confused replacement refs deemed the play a touchdown — a game-changing ruling that handed Seattle an upset victory. (Watch the play below.) This is only the latest in a series of widely-criticized decisions made by the replacements refs. Will the NFL and the real referees finally budge on their contract dispute?
Let's hope so: "The NFL should make an extremely generous offer to the referees' union," says Michael Rosenberg at Sports Illustrated. Commissioner Roger Goodell's decision to initiate a referee lockout may not be the "worst mistake a commissioner has made in my lifetime, but it is surely the dumbest." The replacements have given fans a reason to question the integrity of the game, and when "the public has lost faith in the enterprise," there is no game anymore. The lockout has "destroyed three weeks of the NFL season," and while that can't be fixed, the league can still apologize to players and fans for the mistake and salute the real officials — before it's too late.
"You lost, Roger; do the right thing and bring the real refs back"
But the NFL has no reason to end the lockout: Why should the NFL make a deal with the referees? "Ticket sales have remained steady and television ratings have continued to set records," says Kevin Seifert at ESPN.com. If anything, the controversy over the Seahawks-Packers game is a "cynical public relations coup" for the league; more people are debating NFL games than ever before. The NFL knew exactly what it was getting when it replaced its referees with "low-level college officials, Arena League castoffs, and Lingerie League part-timers," and until the replacements have on effect on the bottom line, the NFL has no incentive to cut a deal.
"NFL got what it deserved, but does it care?"
The lockout won't end until the players intervene: As bad as the Seahawks-Packers game was, it's "only the second-worst thing that could happen under the replacement refs," says Bill Barnwell at Grantland. How will the NFL defend itself if a player is seriously injured due to the incompetence of the replacement referees? There have already been several brutal hits that have gone unpenalized, and the NFL Players' Association had already indicated that it will seek "any relief we believe is appropriate" if referees are unable to ensure players' safety. That may be what it takes; any pushback from the players "would get the referee lockout taken care of very, very quickly."
"The NFL needs to end the referee lockout immediately"
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