NFL Falls On Its Referee-Shaped Sword

Jeff Gross - Getty Images

The NFL's statement on Golden Tate's non-catch from Monday Night Football borders on ludicrous.

The NFL has made a lot of fans thanks to its dedication to getting the call right. Compared to baseball, where technology is virtually anathema, football has embraced replay and benefited from it.

Yes, the league has made major officiating blunders, and we've ripped them for it. That's what we do: We're fans, emotions run high and we have a bird's-eye view of the action. We're generally comfortable with the fact that NFL referees, whatever their faults may be, are going to get the call right most of the time.

Only now, with the replacements referees on the field and the NFL and NFLRA firmly entrenched in their respective positions, have we learned how little the league actually cares about getting the calls right.

The first three weeks of the season have been virtually revelatory on that front. The NFL has shown that it cares deeply about maintaining power, having the last word and preserving its deep coffers. It has not shown that it gives a damn about whether its officials are capable of getting calls correct, keeping players safe or whether they even know the rules of the game. As long as the players play the games, the fans watch and the dollars roll in, these referees can blow all the calls they want.

That was more or less confirmed when the NFL released a statement saying the refs were doing an "admirable" job, which is the kind of thing you say about a student who manages to get a C on a paper you expected him to get an F on. Then the referees totally blew the ending of the Packers-Seahawks game, awarding the win to the wrong team, and the NFL sprang to their defense again. They actually had the balls to call a play where Golden Tate pushed down a defensive back and then wrestled a ball he didn't catch away from another defensive back who intercepted it a touchdown for the Seahawks. This, after the league office reviewed it.

The only conclusion you can come to is that the NFL's commitment to getting calls right was lip service. If it was more than that—this isn't even mentioning the safety concerns, either—then they would have found a reasonable settlement with the referees by now. The fact that they haven't tells me that at the end of the day, even accounting for obstinacy on the part of the NFLRA, Roger Goodell and the league office care more about being right than getting it right.

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