Are the NFL's Scab Referees Putting Players in Danger? (Yes)
The first weekend of National Football League regular season play brought a new flood of complaints about the scab officials brought in to replace the league's locked out regular referees—and the news that the NFL Players Association has expressed its concern over the lockout to NFL management. So far, though, the NFL seems to be taking the view that flagrant errors and questionable safety protections are worth it for the chance at forcing concessions from its regular referees.
Sunday's games included some egregious officiating errors, led by scab refs giving the Seattle Seahawks an extra timeout late in the fourth quarter, a mistake that could have made the difference in a close game. In other fourth-quarter confusion, scab officials gave the two-minute warning at the wrong time in the Pittsburgh Steelers-Denver Broncos game. Both of those mistakes are crystal clear, but neither has a direct safety impact; much less clear are the calls that take place—or don't—on a split second's judgment. And it's those, the blocks and holds, that affect the physicality of a game and potentially endanger players.
The NFL Players Association is looking into safety concerns:
In a September 5, 2012 letter from NFLPA general counsel Tom DePaso to NFL general counsel Jeff Pash, DePaso requests biographies of all replacement officials, including their names, ages, and experience.
“Should it be evident that the replacement officials are under-qualified or inexperienced, we reserve the right to assert that utilizing replacement officials jeopardizes the health and safety of our members and to take appropriate action to protect our members,” DePaso wrote. “In addition, our players request that the locked-out officials immediately be allowed to return to work for this weekends’ games to ensure the players’ health and safety is protected until you reach a new agreement with them.”
This language is important: The collective bargaining agreement for NFL players prohibits them from striking. But it specifically exempts from being called a strike "the quitting of labor by an employee or employees in good faith because of abnormally dangerous conditions for work." NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith has hinted at such a possibility, tellingSports Illustrated during the preseason that "In America it is the employer's obligation to provide as safe a working environment as possible. We believe that if the National Football League fails in that obligation we reserve the right to seek any relief that we believe is appropriate."
But there's a way all these concerns can be put to rest immediately. The NFL's management and owners need to stop being so greedy and end their second lockout in two years.