The NFL's replacement referees suck, but the players need to keep their mouths shut unless they want to actually do something about it. Until then, complaining about the officials just looks like an excuse for poor play.
Everyone who has been watching NFL games through the first two weeks can see that the rookie refs are rough around the edges. Calls have been missed almost as often as they've been seemingly pulled out of thin air. Games have spun out of control, as players refuse to respect their "substitute teachers." Defensive players have, at times, looked like superstars as penalties went uncalled.
Monday Night Football featured the worst of the replacement refs, and did so in front of a national audience. The only guy who had a worse night than Peyton Manning had to be Roger Goodell, who (at least deep down) needs to admit that the ineptitude of the replacements has tarnished the NFL's product.
If the NFL were a factory, firing the replacement refs is akin to getting rid of the entire quality-control department and hiring the guys from the local lead-paint factory.
The funny thing with something being evident is that people don't need to talk about it.
So, it comes across as pretty silly when a player like Joe Flacco comes out and says something like:
The NFL and everybody always talks about the 'integrity of the game' and things like that and I think this is kind of along those lines. And not to say these guys are doing a bad job, but the fact that we don't have the normal guys out there is pretty crazy.
OK, first off, if Flacco was going to couch his entire comment with "not to say these guys are doing a bad job," he probably shouldn't have opened his mouth at all. At least his teammate, Ray Lewis, had the chutzpa to actually call out the refs.
Flacco just acknowledged their presence like someone in the room had farted.
The Ravens weren't the only ones who have taken issue with the replacement refs and made their thoughts public. Philadelphia Eagles defensive lineman Cullen Jenkins tweeted:
I wonder what the regular refs are up to?— Cullen Jenkins (@CullenJenkins) September 17, 2012
Later, he doubled back on his comments:
It's all in good spirit for you serious people. I have talked with the refs during games and they are really cool and trying hard.— Cullen Jenkins (@CullenJenkins) September 17, 2012
Did a Miami Heat game break out somewhere? Because "good job, good effort" isn't exactly the message to send professionals who oversee the product of a multi-billion-dollar business. Being "really cool" and "trying hard" is all well and good, but cool people who try hard can still stink at their jobs.
Of course, the NFL didn't exactly do a great job in vetting the replacements. News stories have cropped up about nonsense like a Saints fan being assigned to a Saints game or a referee joking to LeSean McCoy about fantasy football.
The NFL cobbled these replacements together, handed them a copy of "NFL Rules for Dummies" and threw them to the wolves. One can't blame them for stinking up the joint, but let's not mince words here.
Talking about how much they suck doesn't do anything, though. Goodell is not reading this article, and even if he was, he would be far too busy Scrooge McDucking into a pile of money to actually care that the integrity of the game we all love has been tainted.
The players, ironically, actually have the ability to do something about it. Actions, not words, could actually bring the old refs back. If the players spent half as much time thinking about ways to rectify the situation as they do complaining about it after a loss, maybe things could actually change.
The players union has stood up for the referees union, but the players themselves have sat on their behinds, tweeting rather than doing.
The NFL played this same game with the players last season and was more than willing to cancel games in order to save a few bucks in player costs. Compared to the total NFL revenue pie, the amount of money the referees want is very little.
The bigger issue, in fact, is job security, as the NFL wants to move toward more crews, more accountability and less job security. All good ideas, perhaps, but the current refs don't want to be the ones bearing the brunt of the transition.
Either way, this is how negotiating works. Both sides throw out their ideas and try to gain all the leverage they can before eventually meeting as close to the middle as said leverage will allow. The NFL and its referees are playing their parts, but the players are standing on the sidelines doing little more of value than the hecklers on The Muppet Show.
How could the players help? Stage a demonstration. Set a deadline and refuse to show up to games if the referees aren't back by then. Demand the refs and league get back to the negotiating table. Do something small. Do something big. It really doesn't matter, but do something, anything.
Or just shut up about the replacement refs, NFL players. No one wants to hear what you say in victory, and absolutely no one cares who you believe just lost you the game. Talk without actions is fruitless, feckless and wasted oxygen.
If the players truly believe that the replacement referees are ruining the game or potentially placing its participants in danger, do something about it. Until then, keep your mouths and your Twitter accounts quiet.
Michael Schottey is the NFL national lead writer for Bleacher Report and an award-winning member of the Pro Football Writers of America. Find more of his stuff alongside other great writers at "The Go Route."
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