NFL game official: 'People will realize how good we are'
There have been times when anyone who has ever watched an NFL game,
even from the supposedly unbiased perspective off a press box,
ruminated over whether some game officials should actually have the
stripes on their shirts running horizontally instead of vertically.
Go ahead, admit it, at some point you've at least mentally accused a
game official of grand larceny.
"Sympathetic figures, we are not," noted a veteran active official to
The Sports Xchange on Tuesday night, acknowledging the obvious. "I
mean, who's ever felt sorry for an official, right? That's not going to
change, no matter how this (lockout by the league) turns out. But if
they use (replacement) officials, people from fans to the media to
players are going to realize how good we are. Hell, some of them might
even miss us a little bit."
Engaged in its second lockout in a year, the league announced earlier
this week that negotiations with the National Football League Referees
Association had collapsed, and that it would immediately begin hiring
and training replacements. A Tuesday report suggested the impasse could
extend into the regular season, perhaps for at least a few weeks,
forcing the NFL to employ retired officials, referees from professional
leagues like Arena Football, and zebras from non-BCS conferences.
Nothing against the potential replacements, who doubtless will work
diligently in the next few months to elevate their performance to the
NFL standard. But if you berated the league's regular game officials,
well, get ready to ratchet dissatisfaction, even bile, to another
A year ago, the NFL scored at least a split decision in its public
relations tussle with its rank-and-file. This time around, the league
probably has an early edge, given the perception that officials earn
too much anyway for one day's work per week. And that the battle over a
new collective bargaining agreement will at some point be waged at a
conference table, not in a wrestling cage match with the ridiculously
buffed Ed Hochuli.
But the NFL's advantage could quickly disappear once games, even
preseason contests, begin. Yeah, the previously cited official could be
right, the regular arbiters might actually be missed.
The 121 officials from the 2011 season averaged 11.4 seasons of NFL
tenure. The average for the league's 17 referees was 14.9 years. There
were only four officials with fewer than 10 seasons of NFL experience,
but a like number with 20 or more years in the league.
And, despite the notion the officials work only three hours per week,
they actually devote a lot more time than that to preparation. Agreed,
the job is, by definition, a part-time endeavor. But the officials,
most of whom hold down professional and executive-level jobs, take
their assignments seriously.
No matter how experienced the stand-ins, that kind of familiarity with
the game -- not just the rules, but the speed, and the respect (albeit
grudging most times) of the players -- is going to be difficult to
replace. And while game officials have been the targets of scorn at
times, so will the professionalism they typically exhibit.
The last time the league resorted to employing replacements officials,
in 2001 for a preseason game and one week of the regular season, one
stand-in actually asked Jerry Rice for an autograph.
It figures to be difficult for the game officials to win the hearts of
the public in what might be a protracted standoff. Most of the game
officials that The Sports Xchange contacted, nearly a dozen, wouldn't
even reply with non-attributed quotes. Mike Arnold, who has been
negotiating for the NFLRA, has not responded to several interview
requests. The silence, for those who report on the game, has been
Sometimes it's tough to garner support with only statements.
But one bad call by a replacement in a regular-season game, if the
standoff lasts that long, could speak volumes for the importance of the
NFL referees fighting for appreciation
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