Can Anything Good Possibly Come Out of the NFL Referee Debacle?

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Pain. Disgust. Schadenfreude. Disbelief, too. It's amazing that NFL commissioner Roger Goodell isn't being pounded ruthlessly and endlessly for a screw-up this big and dumb. The lockout of officials, a self-inflicted wound that got infected, swelled, and finally popped in Seattle on Monday night was a colossal, apocalyptic, cosmic fail. Nobody in the history of sports has ever screwed up worse, and done it for less of a reason. Ever. Certainly nothing any player has done off the field, in any sport, has done so much senseless damage to the integrity of a game. There's never been an arrest for drunk driving, a gambling scandal, or a "bounty" that has hurt pro football a fraction as much as the commissioner just did.

Lord knows, there has never been another instance of bad officiating that comes close to the gruesome spectacle we've seen this year. Forget Jeffrey Maier in the ALCS or a phantom fifth down helping Colorado beat Mizzou. Those were blown calls. Mistakes. Sports leagues live with them. Big ones become fan lore. With the NFL's replacement ref fiasco, it was a league's worth of bad officials. It was a dozen bad calls per game. Worse, there were a dozen more that were missed. The players caught on—quickly. They bent and stretched rules, held, clipped, and the league became an exercise in macabre fascination, like watching the island society in Lord of Flies devolve into chaos.

Oh, but wait. The NFL not only deliberately, significantly downgraded their own product, almost daring fans to find reasons the games can't be trusted. The greater stupidity isn't even that the whole fight was over chicken feed. True, America's shimmering example of sports entertainment excellence, a billion-dollar juggernaut, made itself a global laughingstock over few thousand dollars in salaries per year, turning their precious shield into a symbol of bumbling confusion.

But you know what's the most grievous, mind-bendingly gut-wrenchingly stupid thing of all? They did it—debased our game, toying with the affections of millions—to fight a union whose members all have other, full-time jobs. That's a special, deeper level of dumb.

Jake, help me out. My dominant emotion right now is confusion. Maybe I'm wrong, and Goodell is brilliant. Maybe he created the replacement ref fiasco as a Machiavellian ruse to get fans talking about something, anything besides concussions. Either that, or we should fry an egg on Roger's forehead to see what sticks, because that guy has got to be coated with Teflon. You're the booth official this week, man. You get the last word. Mine is: help!

–Hampton

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Sports Roundtable

Patrick Hruby, Jake Simpson, and Hampton Stevens 

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