SBD/September 26, 2012/Leagues and Governing Bodies

Columnists, Media Members Weigh In On NFL Ref Lockout, Damage To League's Integrity

The fallout from the Packers-Seahawks "MNF" game continues today, and THE DAILY offers a roundup of columnists and other members of the media opining on the referee controversy. In Denver, Troy Renck writes locking out the officials has “tarnished the NFL's brand, creating a product that can't be trusted.” The NFL has “become a punch line,” and it is up to NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell "to persuade the owners to compromise and settle” (DENVER POST, 9/26). In Philadelphia, Phil Sheridan writes Goodell’s decision to lock out the officials and play games with "crews of unqualified replacements, has damaged the league's integrity more than anything Sean Payton, Jonathan Vilma or anyone else Goodell has hammered with his iron fist” (PHILADELPHIA INQUIRER, 9/26). Syndicated radio host Jim Rome said, "The NFL’s credibility has been shot. The brand has been damaged" ("The Jim Rome Show," 9/25). In DC, Deron Snyder writes if the league “doesn’t realize this is a crisis situation, it’s even dumber than we thought in letting the situation get this far.” The NFL is “bleeding out, losing more integrity and credibility each week.” The league has “become a joke, but it’s no laughing matter” (WASHINGTON TIMES, 9/26). In Providence, Bill Reynolds writes what “matters is that this is all anyone is talking about.” The NFL, the “most popular league in the country, is turning into a joke” (PROVIDENCE JOURNAL, 9/26). In New Jersey, Art Stapleton writes under the header, “NFL Is A Joke -- And That’s Not Funny” (Bergen RECORD, 9/26).

BAD FOR BUSINESS: YAHOO SPORTS’ Michael Silver wrote the “regrettable Monday Night Mistake has the potential to stand as a seminal moment, a bullet that could penetrate the NFL's Kevlar vest of invulnerability” (SPORTS.YAHOO.com, 9/25). USA TODAY’s Jarrett Bell writes the “whole thing is bad business.” The integrity of the game “has been sucker-punched again, and even harder.” This is “worse than the comedic blunders we’ve seen.” The game’s “essence, the purity of competition on the field, has been compromised -- and that’s an outrage” (USA TODAY, 9/26). In Milwaukee, Tyler Dunne writes the replacement refs in three weeks have “sucker punched the competitive balance of the NFL” (MILWAUKEE JOURNAL SENTINEL, 9/26). NBC's Bob Costas said there has been "plenty" of damage done to the league. Costas: "If this goes on much longer, it’s going to affect playoff races and whatnot. It hurts a lot" ("Today," NBC, 9/26). ESPN's Michael Wilbon said, "They are hurting their product. They’re screaming about integrity when it comes to a player pulling up his socks, but they are too lame and not men enough to deal with what everybody in the country is seeing and angry about” ("PTI," ESPN, 9/25). In Phoenix, Dan Bickley writes the league “must bend on this issue, making key and very public concessions to locked-out officials.” It otherwise risks "irreparably damaging the entire season, making sponsors as unhappy as the disgruntled fans” (ARIZONA REPUBLIC, 9/26). In Detroit, Bob Wojnowski writes the NFL and Goodell “gambled with the integrity of a wildly popular sport and lost in humiliating fashion, and now need to admit it and rectify it” (DETROIT NEWS, 9/26). In N.Y., Mike Lupica notes the longer NFL owners go with replacement officials working games, the “worse they look, the more they make a mockery of a $9 billion-a-year sport, continuing to lock out their regular officials over what amounts to tipping money.” Now it is the “job of the commissioner … to get his owners out of this, to admit they made a mistake and correct that mistake, stop allowing these refs to do as much damage to NFL games as the league has done to itself so far this season” (N.Y. DAILY NEWS, 9/26). 

MAKING HEADLINES: In DC, Sally Jenkins writes under the header, “NFL Replacement Refs’ Incompetence Solely The Fault Of The League” (WASHINGTON POST, 9/26). In K.C., Sam Mellinger writes under the header, “NFL Commissioner’s Handling Of Ref Dispute Insults Fans” (K.C.STAR, 9/26). The GUARDIAN’s Harry Enten wrote under the header, “Replacement Referees Blew The Packers-Seahawks Call But It’s The NFL That Sucks” (GUARDIAN.co.uk, 9/25). In Cleveland, Terry Pluto wrote under the header, “NFL’s Roger Goodell Should Apologize For Handling Of Officials Labor Dispute” (CLEVELAND.com, 9/25). In Philadelphia, Frank Fitzpatrick writes under the header, “Replacement Refs Are NFL’s Worst-Case Nightmare” (PHILADELPHIA INQUIRER, 9/26).

TAKE YOUR WORD FOR IT: In Seattle, Steve Kelley writes under the header, “NFL’s Hypocrisy Proves Integrity Of Game Isn’t Its Motive.” The NFL “says it cares about the integrity of the game, but it doesn't.” If the NFL, its owners and officers, really “cared about the games and the players who compete in them, it would have settled this lockout with officials before the season began” (SEATTLE TIMES, 9/26). On Long Island, Bob Glauber notes Goodell “often invokes” the saying "Protect the shield." But by “failing to resolve its financial differences with the NFL Referees Association and therefore failing to put out the best quality officials, the league is violating its own credo” (NEWSDAY, 9/26). SI.com’s Don Banks wrote, “How can commissioner Goodell and the rest of the NFL hierarchy ever again trot out that ‘protect the shield’ stuff with a straight face? If we're talking about the all-important integrity of the game, it starts with the on-field product and convincing fans that a game's final outcome is just and fair -- at least as much as is humanly possible.” But after this “self-inflicted wound by the NFL, Goodell's mantra is going to ring hollow for a very long time” (SI.com, 9/25). NBC's Costas said, "There’s a contradiction here. Here is a league that examines replays from eight different angles on relatively inconsequential plays because it says that it wants to get everything right down to the last detail. Here is a league that has pledged its concern about player safety. The replacement officials put both of those objectives at serious risk” ("Today," NBC, 9/26). In Green Bay, Mike Vandermause writes the NFL “likes to blow smoke when it talks up the integrity of the game, yet has allowed its product to degenerate to a laughable level.” In the interest of “saving a few million dollars in its spat with locked out regular officials, the NFL is losing credibility fast.” The problem is Goodell and the NFL owners “don’t seem to care” (GREEN BAY PRESS-GAZETTE, 9/26).

TUNE OUT: ESPN.com’s Kevin Seifert wrote the NFL “repeatedly has played us for fools over the past two months.” Seifert: “Did you expect that to change with Tuesday's response to the final play of the Green Bay Packers' 14-12 loss to the Seattle Seahawks?” Instead of “fully owning up to an inexcusable series of events, the league admitted one mistake and took an end-around to avoid the other.”The NFL’s response “reads more like an explanation for any other run-of-the-mill controversy we've seen over the years” (ESPN.com, 9/25). HUFFINGTON POST’s Gavin Shulman wrote if fans “really want something to be done about the replacement refs we’re going to have to speak up.” Shulman: “We're gonna have to tune out. … The games are terrible. It's not fun to watch. It's not fun to be a fan. And there's only one thing in our power to change that. Turning it off” (HUFFINGTONPOST.com, 9/25).

FROM THE OPINION PAGES: A USA TODAY editorial states the “cost of any settlement will pale in comparison with the damage to the NFL's brand if the replacement ref fiasco continues.” The NFL at this point “resembles other exceptionally successful businesses that became so arrogant, they were blind to peril.” The editorial: “Other than game-fixing by gamblers, it's hard to imagine a bigger threat to the integrity of its game than outcomes dictated by incompetent referees” (USA TODAY, 9/26). A SAN ANTONIO EXPRESS-NEWS editorial states the NFL is “destroying its brand" with the referee lockout. NFL owners and the league's management “believe that holding the line on referee salaries and benefits is in their long-term financial interests.” Whatever “slight improvement to their balance sheets the lockout is intended to achieve is more than outweighed by the immediate damage to the league's integrity” (SAN ANTONIO EXPRESS-NEWS, 9/26). A N.Y. TIMES editorial asks, “Does Roger Goodell really want his legacy as commissioner of the National Football League to be that he allowed a hugely popular and profitable sport to become a laughingstock? Obviously not. Then why isn’t he orchestrating a rapid settlement in the dispute between team owners and the league’s regular referees over paychecks and pensions?” (N.Y. TIMES, 9/26).

REFS DESERVE BLAME AS WELL: ESPN.com’s Ashley Fox wrote the locked-out refs are “a party to this dispute,” and it is “unrealistic for them to expect the NFL to continue a benefit for part-time employees that it no longer provides for many full-time employees.” Fox: “You can say the league … is being greedy, but so, too, are the referees.” The “major sticking point” in talks is the pension. The officials “need to do what so many other employees of the league and its 32 teams have done, and let this one go.” They need to “accept responsibility for their role in this debacle.” They can “come back, if they can find a reasonable middle ground” (ESPN.com, 9/25).

ADDITIONAL CONSEQUENCE: In S.F., Bruce Jenkins writes what is worse than the replacement officials is the “specter of organized crime.” That is why the NFL “needs to settle the contract dispute with its referees, right now, before it loses all credibility.” It “doesn't matter if there hasn't been a single conversation between these phony officials and the mob, or any attempt to throw a game.” It is “in the conversation now.” The officiating has been “so inconceivably bad, you really wonder if some of these guys are on the take” (S.F. CHRONICLE, 9/26).
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