SBD/September 19, 2012/Leagues and Governing Bodies

NFLRA Exec Dir Sends Open Letter About Referee Lockout

It has been more than two weeks since the NFL and NFLRA have held labor talks
NFL Referees Association Exec Dir Tim Millis sent an open letter yesterday “detailing his group's position in the lockout,” according to Chuck Schilken of the L.A. TIMES. Millis stated that the “two major sticking points between the sides are salary and benefits.” He wrote that while “significant progress has been made on overall compensation,” the parties “aren't close to agreeing on retirement benefits for officials.” Millis wrote, "Every current NFL official was hired by the NFL with the promise of a defined-benefit pension package. All of these officials and their families have made important life-planning decisions based on this benefit promise. The NFL now wants to break the promise by eliminating that benefit; instead, turning to an inferior defined-contribution plan” (L.A. TIMES, 9/19). PRO FOOTBALL TALK’s Mike Florio noted there are “still no talks, more than two weeks after the two sides made a late run at getting it done by the start of the season.” However, whoever makes the first move at this point will be “deemed to be overly anxious to do a deal.” That means the NFL “will wait for the NFL Referees Association to call, and vice-versa” (PROFOOTBALLTALK.com, 9/18). In DC, Mark Maske notes during Week 2 of the NFL season there were “loud, public pleas by players and commentators for the league to reach an agreement with its locked-out referees and get them back on the field.” But there was “no sign of a breakthrough,” as the league “continued to stand by the work of replacement officials” (WASHINGTON POST, 9/19). The Chicago Tribune’s Bob Foltman said, “The only thing the owners are concerned with is whether or not this is going to start hurting them financially. Until it starts hurting them financially, they’re going to hold their line and make the referees beg them to come back” (“Chicago Tribune Live,” Comcast SportsNet Chicago, 9/18).

VYING FOR CONTROL: USA TODAY’s Kevin Manahan cites an NFL official as saying that the league will “make dealing with chippy players a point of emphasis” to help replacement refs “gain control of games that spun perilously close to becoming brawls this past week.” The league wants its replacement officials “to be more assertive with troublemaking players and mouthy coaches.” Multiple games during Week 2 were “marred by excessive trash-talking and shoving matches that generated lots of postgame talk.” The league official said that “none of the players who have spoken out against replacement referees will be fined, but the officials wouldn’t rule out discipline for coaches or members of team management who aired their frustrations publicly” (USA TODAY, 9/19). One NFL owner yesterday said of the refs during the Broncos-Falcons Monday night game, "I'm not comfortable with what I saw last night. It wasn't professional. It wasn't our standards of what a game is supposed to look like ... it's not the calls themselves and it's not player safety. That's a silly argument.” The owner added, “They looked like ... I don't want to say what they looked like" (SPORTS.YAHOO.com, 9/18).

PLACING BLAME: Retired NFL ref Jerry Markbreit yesterday said it is "obvious" to him that NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell "just doesn't even care." Markbreit: "Otherwise, how could they replace professionalism with unprofessionalism in a game that's so tough to work, even for the best officials in the land? How could he care about it? ... These guys have relied on competent, top-notch, terrific officials all these years. And now they have a bunch of amateurs out there and it's going to fall apart” (ESPNNY.com, 9/18). Giants LB Mathias Kiwanuka said, “There’s no doubt the integrity of the game has been compromised not having the regular officials out there. I can’t pick a side and say, ‘One side is right, one side is wrong.’ All I know is that we would all benefit from having the regular refs out there. We’ve got to get that taken care of.” He added, “That’s the unfortunate reality, that the longer you extend that leash the more people are going to take it. We wouldn’t have refs out there if we didn’t need them. We need the regular guys to come back” (N.Y. DAILY NEWS, 9/19). Giants DE Justin Tuck said, “The replacement referee situation can start to put a damper on the league” (NYTIMES.com, 9/18).

POINTING FINGERS: ESPN.com’s Dan Graziano wrote the lockout is “100 percent the NFL's fault.” Just as the players “weren't last summer, the officials aren't on strike.” They are “locked out,” and the league “will not budge until it gets everything it wants, and in the meantime the product is suffering” (ESPN.com, 9/18). SI.com’s Michael Rosenberg wrote, “Finding a replacement commissioner would be the Roger Goodell approach to Roger Goodell.” It is “precisely how he has handled this referee lockout,” and it has been “a debacle.” Goodell and his advisers “made a tactical mistake: They assumed that refs are indeed replaceable.” Rosenberg: “I'm speculating here, but I imagine they never saw the Monday night mess coming. I think they assumed that even if the replacement refs were not as good as the real ones, they at least would be competent enough” (SI.com, 9/18). In Atlanta, Jeff Schultz wrote, “The league did this. Goodell did this” (AJC.com, 9/18). L.A. Times' columnist Bill Plaschke said the issue is a “huge embarrassment” to Goodell’s legacy ("Around The Horn," ESPN, 9/18). In N.Y., Mike Lupica writes, “This has turned into a bad time for him, and for the league, despite the fact that pro football is more popular than ever” (N.Y. DAILY NEWS, 9/19). ESPN’s Michael Wilbon said the “games are horrible and it does threaten ... the integrity of the game, but they don’t care" ("PTI," ESPN, 9/18).

IMAGE IS EVERYTHING: USA TODAY’s Jarrett Bell writes under the header, “NFL Mars Its Image.” A league that “loves what a well-honed image can do for it has ridiculously fumbled the ball of perception.” With the “blunders and earned-or-not criticism of the replacement officials, the league’s reputation has taken serious body blows.” The refs are “supposed to be the authorities,” but when they “get tripped up by the rules or stand by as all hell breaks loose, it weakens credibility” (USA TODAY, 9/19). In DC, Stephen Whyno noted officiating blunders were “prevalent through the first two weeks of the regular season, bringing the league’s competitive credibility into question.” When prominent players such as Ravens QB Joe Flacco and LB Ray Lewis “call out the replacement officials, it’s a public relations hit for the NFL” (WASHINGTON TIMES, 9/18). In Boston, Dan Shaughnessy writes, “It’s a jail break. The experiment has failed. The competition is compromised.” He adds, “This crisis is very real. And Monday night was the tipping point” (BOSTON GLOBE, 9/19). SportsNet N.Y.'s Adam Schein said, "These scabs have no idea what’s going on. … It is absolute amateur hour” (“Loud Mouths,” SportsNet N.Y., 9/18). In St. Louis, Bryan Burwell wrote, “Stop this and stop it now before someone gets hurt.” The replacement officials are “in way over their heads, and they can't control the game at this level.” With the replacements on the field Sunday, NFL games “were teetering on the edge of uncontrolled, borderline riots” (ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH, 9/18). Denver Post columnist Woody Paige said, "You cannot allow these guys to go back out there" ("Around The Horn," ESPN, 9/18). In Salt Lake City, Gordon Monson writes using replacement refs is “a charade that won’t work.” Monson: “All it does is make a rich league look foolish and call the game itself into question” (SALT LAKE TRIBUNE, 9/19).

FOLLOW THE RULES: ESPN.com reported replacement official Brian Stropolo “will not be allowed to return as an official until the league completes a review of the circumstances that dictated the action” of pulling him from last Sunday’s Saints-Panthers game. Stropolo on his Facebook page also “posted Sunday’s game assignment, a specific violation of league policy for its officials” (ESPN.com, 9/18). Meanwhile, CBSSPORTS.com’s Mike Freeman reported the NFL last week “sent out its Week 2 memo,” and the 10th point of that memo noted: "Effective immediately, officials will not work NFL team scrimmages during the week." A source “did not deny the information” (CBSSPORTS.com, 9/18).

NO GAG ORDER YET: USA TODAY’s Hiestand, Klemko & Corbett note it “appears the NFL isn’t cracking down on critical announcers,” nor are TV execs. ESPN’s Mike Tirico yesterday said that the network “hasn’t put restrictions on what he could say about the replacements.” Tirico, who was very outspoken against the officials Monday night, said, “I have not been told anything except to share your honest opinion. At no point has anyone at our place said, ‘Lay off the officials.’” Additional spokespeople for other NFL broadcast partners yesterday said that they “have no restrictions on what their announcers can say about the officials” (USA TODAY, 9/19). In Minneapolis, Jim Souhan writes the replacement refs “are not pros,” and they “proved to be so clueless during the Monday night game that ESPN announcer Mike Tirico, one of the most bland and uncontroversial voices in the business, excoriated them” (Minneapolis STAR TRIBUNE, 9/19).
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