Still, there were other takeaways, too. A labor union can still whip plutocratic management in a contract negotiation provided that said union has actual leverage: for one, the scab refs proved that their regular counterparts are basically irreplaceable; moreover, the regular officials are part-time employees, with other careers and income on the side, which meant that unlike recently locked-out NFL players, they could afford to walk away from the table. We learned that politicians can be pandering hypocrites—more precisely: we got a refresher course—and also learned that while the league peddles its concussion lawsuits-driven, newfound concern for player safety with the Come-to-Jesus fervor of a cable televangelist, that concern does not outweigh the owners' desire to stick it to their gametime cops over a few million bucks in traditional pension payments.
Hampton, what will you remember about the referee lockout? Will it affect the NFL going forward?
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.