Last night the National Football League welcomed, if that is the right term, their "official" officials back to the gridiron after a three-week hiatus in the regular season during which games were officiated by make-shift crews of replacement referees culled from the ranks of Division II and Division III college ranks.
These replacement referees have been fodder for humorists and the object of scorn among radio talk show hosts. Fans have been in full-throated anger at some of the calls, the low point of them coming when the end of the Seattle Seahwaks/Green Bay Packers game on Monday night unfolded in chaos and from which the term "simultaneous possession" became a more popular debating point across the land than which Presidential candidate had a better grasp of economic policy.
The jokes, the scorn, the anger -- the booing -- missed the point. Fans, those referees were not the game's problem, and they were not deserving of the abuse. They were hired into a difficult situation to do a job for which they were ill-prepared. Even Roger Goodell, the Commissioner of the NFL, does not deserve any extraordinary rage. Goodell, who has mastered the art of being able to tell whoppers with a straight face, straining mightily to make the case that the botched call in Seattle on Monday night might have moved things along some, but was not all that important, is merely a mouthpiece.
The folks behind this lockout of game officials are the same ones behind the lockout of players of the National Hockey League. They are the ones hiding behind their hired guns in the Commissioner's office. Even if you think that there should be give and take on both sides of labor negotiations, only one party can "lock out" its labor. And it is becoming, not a last resort sort of measure, but the default position for these people.
Sports franchises have always been businesses, but there was also a sense that they were a public trust, the basis of a covenant with communities and fans, sharing a common goal of pursuing and rooting for championships. No more. Franchises are no more than assets with value and that generate income. And if improving the bottom line means locking out referees for amounts that represent rounding error on a balance sheet, or locking out players to squeeze a little more out of them on top of what was obtained the last time they were locked out, so be it.
The referees aren't the problem. The players aren't the problem. The Commissioners aren't the problem.
The problem is in the owners suites. You want to boo some one, boo them.