The replacement refs suck. They’re bad for the game of football, and they’re bad for the NFL as an organization. They have become the targets of seemingly limitless anger and hostility coming from coaches, players, media members, fans, janitors, hot dog vendors, school bus drivers, the guy at your office who smells a little like Funyuns, and even your grandma who knows as much about the NFL as she does NWA. And yet I can’t help but feel sorry for them.
I know I’ll lose a lot of people right off the bat for saying that. There is a specific type of person who believes in the integrity of unions over all else. A person who loathes the type of people who would dream of crossing a picket line. The type of person who only uses “scab” instead of “replacement” when describing the refs. I respect this point of view. Hell, I might even call it a noble point of view, but I just can’t share it. When I see these guys blowing calls, I see a bunch of people who were unprepared for the weight of the football world to be on their backs, but who got offered a dream job out of the blue. And I can’t fault them for taking it.
A thought experiment:
Ever since you were a little kid, all you ever wanted to be was an actor. You were in every school play. Maybe you even studied theatre in college. For years you auditioned for any and everything under the sun. A student film about a genius young filmmaker making his first film? Musical adaptation of The King’s Speech? An all-white production of Porgy and Bess? Didn’t matter. You were there. Meanwhile, you’ve started killing yourself, working dead end job after dead end job just to keep from having to live under an overpass with Two-Toed Bart and his pet iguana, Bart Senior. And then slowly but surely one of those dead end jobs starts taking up more of your time. You’re auditioning less. Maybe you even get a promotion. Until one day it happens. You wake up in a cold sweat. The realization that you’d been running from for years has finally tracked you down and wrapped its tiny, cold hands around your neck. The message is clear. You are not an actor. You are a bank teller (or a teacher) (or a waitress) (or a bartender for iguanas).
Then one day, Steven Spielberg walks into your bank and tells you that the Screen Actor’s Guild is going on strike, but that he has a movie he really wants to make. Do you want to star in it? Oh and by the way, filming starts tomorrow, so I hope you’re a quick study. What do you say? Do you want to be a “replacement actor”?
I know for a fact that I would say yes before he even finished speaking, and that’s why my heart aches for these men. These men who have been reffing high school games, Division II college games, LINGERIE FOOTBALL GAMES, all while maintaining regular jobs. These men who clearly love football, and love being referees, but just aren’t good enough to have the positions that the lockout has forced them to hold. These men whose reaches exceed their grasps. Who must at some point have looked at themselves in the mirror and said, “I’m not good enough to ever get to the big show for real (if I was, I wouldn’t blacklist myself from the NFLRA by crossing the picket line), so I’m going to take this chance while I can.”
And no, they’re not well prepared. No, they don’t know the rulebook well enough. And yes, the integrity of the sport is crumbling around them. But when we watch football on Sundays and want to curse the insanity that we see on TV, let’s remember who we should be cursing. It shouldn’t be the unqualified guy whose only crime was having the gall to say yes when someone came and asked him if he’d like to have his dream job, if only for a short while. It should be the guy who asked him: Roger “I don’t care that the NFL is a $9 billion industry and the refs’ demands only amount to about $16 million, I’m not going to lose” Goodell. Fuck that guy.
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