Only the NFL. Only the NFL can bend over backwards to change the very core of how its game is played in the name of player safety, then say it is prepared to enter a new season using unqualified game officials, most of whom have never officiated above the college level of Division I-AA.
Being a Ravens fan, naturally I am no big fan of the qualified officials, so in this regard, it is understandable for people of my ilk to wonder, “How much worse can it be?” Just watch. The degree to which it will be worse, piled onto the hypocrisy of all that is the NFL will continue to amaze and aggravate at record levels. You think the replacement officials were bad in the preseason? Wait until the games count and they’re going about 100 miles per hour faster than any preseason game has ever gone.
Or wait until somebody gets hurt. Don’t want to think about that? Someone had better think about it because it should be the biggest consideration in ending the lockout of the regular officials. But let’s not fool ourselves into believing it really isn’t the biggest concern of the NFL’s today. It is by a long shot, and not for the idealistic and humanitarian purposes the NFL would have us believe it to be.
The league’s efforts to suddenly curb violence in a violent game is a thinly veiled attempt to hide its own agenda. In the real, it is damage control — damage control for when the mother of all lawsuits becomes the matter of the day. When that suit, accusing the NFL of hiding information that linked football-related head trauma to permanent brain injuries since the beginning of time, goes to the court, the NFL will stand high on its soapbox trumpeting its handling of Bountygate and for markedly changing the rules of the game for the sake of the safety of its players.
Obviously, this is not coming from any great legal mind, as the most valuable piece of legal advice I ever received came when my lawyer told me, “You don’t get to talk.” But you have to wonder about the brass monkeys on the NFL when it will attempt to claim with a straight face that the popularity of its game was not built on violence — the brand of violence the NFL itself, until recently, vigorously marketed and sold to all of us who, whether we care to admit it or not, have an innate hankering to see some poor sucker going across the middle get his head handed to him.
A very frugal man once told me as he waited 11 minutes for Happy Hour to begin, “I admit I’m cheap, but being cheap is what made me rich.” Thus, I understand the NFL did not become the rich and powerful entity it’s become by throwing bad money after bad money, although there is a reason Albert Haynesworth still finds himself in a remarkably fine mood these days. So even though I have on occasion been known to throw bad money after bad money myself (see used ’84 Chevrolet Celebrity that I had to have that day), wouldn’t it make sense, given what the pending lawsuit is likely to cost, for the NFL to take every measure it can to ensure the most qualified game officials are in place to ensure the safety of its players before it goes to court?
I love professional football as much as the next bloodthirsty slug (content in the knowledge, of course, that it’s not my blood). However, I find it contemptible the way the NFL strong arms us for our allegiance and our money, then tells us what we’re going to like and how we’re going to like it — in this instance by going on the cheap with their qualified officials. Of course, they pulled if off once before by replacing the players, so who needs real officials, right?
The NFL is convinced it has us by the you-know-whats, no? Well, not this Billy Clyde Puckett; I’ll have none of it. Until the real officials are put back onto the field, I tell you now I will not watch a single snap of a National Football League game. Until Wednesday night, that is, when the Cowboys and Giants open the regular season, qualified officials or not.
Mike Burke is sports editor of the Cumberland Times-News. Write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org