The NFL, gambling, and corporate greed

The aftermath of the "Fail Mary"

Seattle Seahawks vs. the Green Bay Packers.
(Image credit: George Holland/ZUMA Press/Corbis)

As the fallout from last night's Inaccurate Reception — a "Fail Mary?" — drifts across the country, keep in the mind some of the deeper equities at stake in the labor dispute between referees and the National Football League.


Perhaps as much as $250 million was illegitimately lost because of the referee's decision last night. Seattle won a game they were projected to lose, and before the "shared catch," Green Bay was ahead by more than the "spread" that odds makers had placed between the two teams. The NFL won't admit this, but the integrity of the game is as important to the legal gaming industry and the tens of thousands of jobs it represents as it is to the "spirit" of the game. Fantasy Football leagues are the "play" equivalent of the Vegas sports books. These two circuses help create the demand that keeps the NFL's profit margins flush, its TV revenues and ratings steady, and its stadiums full.

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2.Corporate greed and legacy pensions

The NFL may have a point about the pensions the referees want, but the political atmosphere in the country tilts decidedly against corporations that earn billions and deny workers their fair shake. On the other hand, state governments are wrestling with legacy union pensions, and these are unpopular. If the referees are truly holding out because of pensions, then they're not necessarily going to find a groundswell of public support.

3.Home field advantage

This ties back into gambling, but the integrity of the sport dissolves when teams and bookmakers believe that the roar of home crowds can intimidate the replacement referees.

4.The NFL's concussion lawsuit fears

Proper communication and confidence among the officiating crew might have ensured that an interception was not turned into a touchdown. But the most egregious error during that final play was the illegal offensive pass interference by Golden Tate of the Seahawks, who quite visibly pushed a Green Bay cornerback to the ground before (not) catching the football. Players are getting chippy and are taking more risks because they seem to think the officiating crews aren't quick enough to catch them. This puts player health and safety at stake. The NFL will claim in court that a commitment to player safety is its core internal value. But the league's support of the replacement referees belies that claim.

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Marc Ambinder

Marc Ambinder is's editor-at-large. He is the author, with D.B. Grady, of The Command and Deep State: Inside the Government Secrecy Industry. Marc is also a contributing editor for The Atlantic and GQ. Formerly, he served as White House correspondent for National Journal, chief political consultant for CBS News, and politics editor at The Atlantic. Marc is a 2001 graduate of Harvard. He is married to Michael Park, a corporate strategy consultant, and lives in Los Angeles.