As a longtime fan of the NFL, I want to believe that Roger Goodell has the best interest of NFL players at heart.
After all, Goodell is the commissioner of the most popular league in North American professional sports, that has a global following and employs 1,700 athletes every season.
Surely he is serious about the the health and well-being of his employees.
In August, the commissioner seemed to illustrate his dedication to the safety of NFL players, in a segment recorded for NFL Videos. He discussed efforts to reduce concussions as well as the impending use of replacement refs as the NFL continued their ongoing labor dispute with the referees union.
But Goodell's continued use of the replacement refs reveals the hypocrisy of both his statements and his actions.
The replacement refs are overmatched, but their inability to make correct calls affects much more than the outcome of the games. The league's official statement may claim the referees' performance is sufficient for the job, but their ineptitude endangers the safety of the players.
Quarterback Robert Griffin III told The Washington Post that some of the shots he received from the Rams were "cheap":
How have the replacement refs affected the fairness of play in the NFL this season?
They were definitely going after me. They were doing a lot of dirty things….The game was unprofessional.
I’ve never been in a situation where you feel that there is going to be an explosion on the field. You’re hoping that doesn’t happen. It was very close to losing control.
And linebacker Lorenzo Alexander was concerned about the possible long-term effects of the officiating on the league:
You’re going to come up with schemes, come up with techniques or a mentality and push the envelope as far as the refs allow you to do. Until they call it, why wouldn’t you do it, if it’s going to give you an advantage to win games? …Guys were getting thrown down, literally getting tackled, covering kickoffs [Sunday]. But they’re not calling it. So as a player, why not do it?
And it wasn't only the Redskins who were complaining. Baltimore Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis was fuming after his team's game against the Philadelphia Eagles, as reported by the Associated Press (via The Washington Post):
The time is now. How much longer are we going to keep going through this whole process? I don’t have the answer. I just know across the league teams and the league are being affected by it. It’s not just this game, it’s all across the league. And so if they want the league to have the same reputation it’s always had, they’ll address the problem. Get the regular referees in here and let the games play themselves out. We already have controversy enough with the regular refs calling the plays.
Are the replacement refs endangering the safety of the players?
A more objective viewpoint was provided by Mike Pereira, yet he was also critical. Currently a rules analyst for Fox Sports, Pereira is the former VP of Officiating for the NFL and tweeted his thoughts on the matter during the Monday night game between the Denver Broncos and Atlanta Falcons, referring to Atlanta Falcons owner Arthur Blank:
Two tweets before I go to dinner. The NFL released a statement today saying the replacement refs "are performing admirably."— Mike Pereira (@MikePereira)
Second tweet.. Arthur Blank is on the negotiating committee in this lockout. Arthur..get the refs to the table tomorrow and get this done.— Mike Pereira (@MikePereira) September 18,
There's a lot of people in the league that would rather break the [referees'] union. There's a lot of people who don't feel like officiating is on-field personnel. They feel like it is a commodity. But more importantly, everything about the NFL now is inelastic for demand. There's nothing that they can do to hurt the demand for the game. So, the bottom line is they don't care.
And the replacement ref controversy is occurring while Bountygate is still making news in the background. Goodell's harsh suspensions of Jonathan Vilma, Scott Fujita and Will Smith were recently overturned by an appeals panel.
But how can anyone—Bountygate participants, current players and coaches, NFL fans around the country—believe Roger Goodell when he says a bounty system has no place in this league because of the threat to player safety when he hires replacement refs who allow a football games devolve into a street fight?
And this hypocritical behavior is not a single incident but rather the establishing of a pattern.
At a meeting held in August 2010, Roger Goodell and the owners supported an 18-game season, a proposal that was opposed by the players and later tabled. Chicago Bears tight end Desmond Clark may have summed up the players' position best:
I would vote to eliminate two preseason games and then keep it at a 16-game season because the longer you're out there playing, the more your body breaks down. When you get into December, you're like walking zombies. You can't feel your joints.
Despite being aware of these injury concerns, and despite making statements that show he understands the importance of the player's health and well-being, Roger Goodell turns right around and puts the players in danger by proposing an 18-game season and employing replacement refs who are neither competent nor confident enough to make calls that protect the players.
As commissioner, Roger Goodell chose one path for the league but ultimately followed another in the complete opposite direction, putting those he is responsible for in peril. As a result, the NFL has truly lost its way.