Referees take heat from all sides

By Kyle Rich

The NFL has recently come under fire from former players and medical personnel for what they believe has been a lack of safety precautions during games that has affected them years

after retirement.

Now that the 2012-2013 season is underway, the NFL has taken more harsh criticism due to the labor dispute with the NFL Referees Association, which forced the league to use replacement officials in lieu of locked-out professionals for the first three weeks of the season. The two sides reached an agreement Sept. 26, but because game officials are usually placed under scrutiny for bad calls, the league’s inability to reach a contract with the referees and the consequences of the lockout are being examined.

Although the NFL is a multibillion-dollar organization, money was the main issue during the negotiations. Mickey Mellen, editor of Football-Refs.com, helped break down the issues.

“One of the main arguments [was] surrounding referee pensions,” Mellen said. “They [wanted] $38,500 a year, and the NFL [wouldn’t] do it.”

Warren Zola, adjunct associate professor of business law at Boston College and a contributor to the blog Sport-Law.Blogspot.com, said the situation was a standard result of collective bargaining for which official referees have taken too much heat.

“This lockout by the NFL was intended to show their leverage on their employees—the referees,” Zola said. “Unfortunately, public perception and failure of their replacement workers shifted the leverage from the NFL to the locked-out referees.”

The NFL took weeks to solve the disagreement, which not only affected referees, but also could have shut out games altogether had players gone on strike, according

to Zola.

Currently, the NFL’s collective bargaining agreement prohibits players from striking. However, the National Labor Relations Board, an independent government agency that oversees labor unions, has a clause that permits workers to refuse to work under “abnormally dangerous conditions.” Zola said confusion on the field because of blown calls and inconsistencies with the replacement referees can lead to potential danger.

“That was an argument I believe the players could have made to side with the locked-out referees,” Zola said.

After weeks of questionable calls, the criticism reached a new high, following a controversial call at the end of the Sept. 24 Seattle Seahawks and Green Bay Packers game, when officials ruled a last-second touchdown, giving the

Seahawks a win. But according to Chicago Sun-Times Bears/NFL beat writer Sean Jensen, the referees on the field weren’t the only ones who made the wrong call. Both officials were able to review the play camera and decided to uphold the touchdown decision.

“Here’s a built-in chance that the NFL has to protect themselves from these situations, and that person who is hired by the NFL and [who] wasn’t a replacement went ahead and ruled it a touchdown when it clearly was not,” Jensen said.

While the regular officials are back on the field, Jensen claims he has never seen an outburst like this before in his time covering the NFL.

“This was by far the biggest outcry that I can recall,” Jensen said. “When you’re hearing comparisons to World Wresting Entertainment, that’s a troubling sign. [There were] lots of questions of integrity from the NFL.”

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