The NFL referees went from scabs-to-settlement, and Dave Zirin — sports writer for The Nation and Edge of Sports — was all over it all week long! What happened, why it happened, and why it’s so much bigger than sports. From before “The Inaccurate Reception” of Monday night to the NFL settlement, Zirin nailed it all down. Here is the backwards recap:
MSNBC with Tamron Hall (Thurs.): “This has highlighted for the country the gap between skilled union labor and non-skilled union labor for everybody to see. And I hope the people in Wisconsin are going to ask Scott Walker: ‘Why is skilled union labor good enough for NFL officials, but not good enough for fire fighters and teachers in the state of Wisconsin’”.
The Nation (Thurs): It’s Over: NFL Union Referees Return in Style:
“The NFL referee lockout is over and we now have an answer to the question, “What does it take to pierce the shame-free cocoon of unreality where NFL owners reside?” All you need, it seems, is condemnation across the political spectrum ranging from the President of the United States to small-town mayors, to even anti-union corporate lickspittles like Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker. All you need is one of your flagship teams, the Green Bay Packers, publicly threatening to strike or “take a knee on every play.” All you need are your star quarterbacks Aaron Rodgers and Drew Brees blasting your product. All you need are online petitions with miles of signatures and 70,000 fans calling the league offices in the 24 hours following the debacle of a Monday night game between the Seattle Seahawks and the Green Bay Packers. All of this collective scorn finally punctured the owners’ magical mental space, bringing them to the negotiating table to settle.”
“The referees who are locked out are part-time employees of the National Football League. They make roughly $8,000 a week, and they have historically had pensions. Their contract ended, and the National Football League owners decided to lock them out and not negotiate in good faith. Now, the amount it would cost to get the regular referees back is the same amount as for a 30-second Super Bowl ad. It would be $62,000 per team per week, which is a pittance for a $9.3 billion business. But the NFL owners have decided to pursue this strategy, and so they have brought in a series of officials who—I mean, at the risk of sounding unkind—are unskilled, untrained scabs who are in over their heads on an NFL field in front of 70,000 fans. They have no idea what they’re doing. And that’s what made Monday night such a big story, is that it crystallized in front of a national audience the problems of both corporate arrogance as well as unskilled, non-union workers.”
The Nation (Tues): Even Scott Walker Wants the Union Refs Back on the Field:
“The tragedy is that there is no settlement, fans are outraged and a preventable brutal injury is just lurking around the corner because the league’s “first responders” are rank, scab incompetents. The farce is that the NFL owners are so isolated that they can’t see that everyone wants the union refs back, even the Governor whose political fortunes are underwritten by right-wing, anti-labor billionaires: Wisconsin’s Scott Walker. Yes, that Scott Walker. The same governor who waged war on union teachers and firefighters without care for the social costs, wants his union refs back. Late last night, the Green Bay Packers fan tweeted, “After catching a few hours of sleep, the #Packers game is still just as painful. #Returntherealrefs.” The gall of Scott Walker possesses the power of a tsunami. At least we know where the governor’s priorities are. Unskilled, underpaid, poorly performing teachers and firefighters don’t trouble him. Poorly officiated NFL games do. Maybe he’ll call the Wisconsin National Guard on NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell as that’s his preferred negotiating tactic.”
The Nation (Mon.): NFL Scab Referees and The Return of TV Bloopers:
“Yesterday we were served the spectacle of 49er coach Jim Harbaugh berating some meek scab into giving him both an extra challenge flag and an additional timeout. Then there was the sight of the referee who threw his hat on the field of play, causing receiver Kevin Ogletree to step on it and slip awkwardly in the end zone. Fortunately, his knee ligaments remained attached. But this was all high comedy compared to seeing helmet-to-helmet hits go unregulated, Bill Belichick physically accosting an official and 70,000 fans in Baltimore chanting “bullsh*t” in unison for a solid minute. The owners might want to note that it’s only funny until the peasants grab pitchforks.
Then there are the announcers who with few exceptions talk about these foul-ups, bleeps and blunders like Roger Goodell has electrodes attached to their nether-regions, ready to zap at the slightest critique. In the game I was watching most intently, Washington against the Cincinnati Bengals, it felt like I was viewing Soviet state television. Replays weren’t shown to the television audience after missed calls; commercial breaks would cut in rather than dwell on errant whistles; and worst of all, when mentioned, the announcers would speak reverently of the struggles of “replacement referees.” Calling these scabs “replacement referees” is like calling a befouled outhouse a “replacement toilet.” Scour across every minute of every broadcast and the word “scab” is going unuttered. To call them otherwise is like calling a flasher in Central Park a “penile exposure expert.” Their very existence on this elevated cultural plane degrades all labor, organized or not. Their incompetence is an affront to fans and an actual physical danger to players.”
Zirin has been one of the very few sports journalists with the courage and corporate independence to take sports owners to task over the years. His must-read book “Bad Sports: How Owners are Ruining the Games We Love” and others can be found at Edge of Sports.
Fair warning: Owners — most of whom are hard right wing — don’t want folks to read it because even more change might ensue.
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