On Aug. 31, just a week or so prior to the kickoff of the new season, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell sent out a "note" to the public that was essentially a press release, a reminder to you, the NFL viewing public, that the league was going balls-out on player safety:
Part of our responsibility in helping teams and players prepare for each NFL season is to make sure they understand and respect league policies and rules. As always, we hold everyone, including ourselves, strictly accountable for protecting the integrity of the game [...] We will aggressively protect the health, safety and long-term livelihood of our players, both on the field and off.
Roger Goodell is a hypocritical shitstain. Here's a man who has gone to great lengths to punish bounty participants and hand out fines as if they were free rubbers, all in the name of "player safety." And yet the NFL grows more dangerous by the week thanks to his decision to play hardball over 1 percent of league revenue and lock out the officials in favor of scab refs.
It's clear now that Week 1 was essentially a lab experiment for these shitty refs. The consensus opinion from the media (people such as Florio and Gregg Easterbrook) was that the refs did a decent job. After all, they didn't make any game-ruining errors, except for that Arizona game when they handed Seattle a fourth timeout and, thus, an extra chance to win. These refs were being graded on a curve. They were expected to be shitty, but they weren't egregiously shitty. PROBLEM SOLVED!
The only problem is that players and coaches spent that week figuring out the refs' vulnerabilities, and as a result Week 2 was about teams seeing what they could get away with when the refs weren't looking. Turns out, you can get away with a lot! There were missed roughing calls all over the place, including plenty of those naughty helmet-to-helmet hits that angry up the Ginger Hammer's blood. There were numerous scuffles after the whistle was blown. And, of course, there were the Bucs defenders diving at the Giants' knees during their kneel-down to end Sunday's game. There's no reason to think that any of this will get better as the weeks go on.
When these refs started, most people worried that they would affect the outcome of a game, but that's clearly not the only concern now. The real problem is that these refs have virtually no authority on the field. Because what have they done to deserve it? In just one game yesterday, the Niners got whistled for two phantom secondary calls, one a pass-interference call against Chris Culliver that led directly to a Detroit field goal, the other a holding call on Carlos Rogers that resulted in a first down. Later on, Lions linebacker Stephen Tulloch mugged a 49ers receiver without anyone blowing a whistle. That's one game, and I didn't even touch on every shitty call involved. Steelers-Jets was even worse.
There's obviously no guarantee that regular refs would have gotten those calls right, but there at least would have been a sense among players and coaches that a standard was being enforced. Right now, that isn't true at all. Right now, players and coaches feel like the league is fucking them over for the sake of winning a piddly-shit labor war. Joe Flacco said as much after losing on Sunday.
If the real refs don't come back soon, there's gonna be a brawl. A serious brawl, with punches thrown and guys openly grabbing nutsacks and serious Skip Bayless discussions the next day about HAVE FOOTBALL PLAYERS GOTTEN OUT ON CONTROL?! That's where this is heading. Players are frustrated because the refs are failing to look out for cheap shots, and because they feel like blown calls are costing them a chance to win. That frustration, at some point, will break.
And the worst part is that I already know Goodell will try to pin this on the players. It will be THEIR fault for not respecting refs who don't deserve to be respected. They're the ones who are gonna have to deal with the NFL's new normal. Roger Goodell's solution to this disaster won't be to pay the refs—God fucking forbid—but to send out another stern "note" and handing out more fines and suspensions. And he can get his networks to play along, because for every open criticism of the officials yesterday (Greg Gumbel killed the refs in the Ravens-Eagles game for a terrible fumble call that was later overturned), there was Cris Collinsworth literally laughing at Tulloch's interference non-call. KIDS INTERFERE WITH THE DARNDEST THINGS! On the other two horrible secondary calls, Collinsworth and Al Michaels said nothing at all. The crew on the game I watched Sunday afternoon used the euphemism "these new refs" more than once. The halftime crew last night basically said that players have to adjust to the new refs. Well, FUCK THAT. The new refs suck.
We count on officials to make fair calls every game, but the lockout has proven that refs also serve the critical function of managing the game. Keeping time. Calling penalties promptly. Not having to huddle every five fucking minutes to talk over issues that are a complete mystery to everyone watching. Without that competent management, the game itself grows ragged and listless, and the anger becomes conspicuous.
And this is all Roger Goodell's doing, no matter how hard Peter King and his colleagues might try to obfuscate the issue. (Today, King wrote of union leader Scott Green: "I sense Green is the hard-liner here." Right, Peter. Green is the hard-liner, not the guy who locked him out.) Goodell has spent the bulk of his tenure paying lip service to player safety in an inherently unsafe game, and in a matter of weeks he has undermined everything he has ever said about the issue by installing shitty game managers to officiate real, important games. Everything he has said about player safety has been complete bullshit. He doesn't give a fuck. He only cares about LOOKING like he gives a fuck. He doesn't really want to be held accountable. He's not a leader. He's a caretaker. His vision for the future of NFL has nothing to do with innovation but with protection, with cosseting his league from any legal liability and shifting the blame onto the players, with making sure the NFL's reputation remains blissfully intact even when it's actively fucking itself. There's only one thing that sucks worse than these scab refs, and that's Goodell. Fuck him. He's the worst.