Dear Ownership – Please Protect Our Players

The complaints about the replacements referees continue to pour across every medium available to fans and analysts. Even the coaches and players are starting to weigh in. I understand that the replacements refs are in a difficult position and are doing the best they can under the circumstances. Unfortunately, their best just isn’t good enough. It is high time for the owners to step in and protect our players.

Last night’s Monday Night Football match-up not only featured a throw down between Matt Ryan and Peyton Manning, but a first quarter that lasted a full hour thanks to the delays and poor game management of the replacements refs. The game delays, however, should be the least of our worries. From the incorrect ball spotting to the botched fumble recovery possession determinations, the bad calls being made on the field are directly altering the trajectory of games. They are also dramatically injuring the integrity of the game of football and the NFL to the point that more than one person has suggested these games being played under the supervision of the replacements be marked with an asterisk.

The sub-par officiating is making the games harder and harder to watch, not just for the delays and miscalls, but also for the threat it poses to our players. 

All around the league, players are facing uncalled late hits and helmet-to-helmet contact. Jabs are being thrown without penalty long after plays are called dead. The on-field jawing is reaching such heights that people are just waiting for the first big brawl and ensuing ejections.

In Sunday’s Redskins-Rams match-up, the smack talk started early and the hits came often. Robert Griffin III was targeted hard by the Rams defense and took at least one helmet-to-helmet hit that wasn’t called (see image below), not to mention numerous late hits and under-the-radar, post-play jabs. Fred Davis, shown here being laid out by Jenoris Jenkins, suffered a concussion and will submit to NFL protocol before being cleared for play. Josh Wilson also left Sunday’s game with a concussion after a helmet-to-helmet collision with Rams RB Daryl Richardson and will follow the same protocol as Davis. These are just a few examples from one of the many NFL games played over the last week. There were many more uncalled hits in the Redskins-Rams game, and dozens more across the league. 

During a time when the NFL has placed so much emphasis on player safety - not to mention while it is being sued by more than 3,500 players for head injuries sustained while playing – it seems utterly inconceivable that it would allow the current referee lockout to continue. The average NFL team is now worth over $1 billion. The League had revenue of $9.3B in 2010 and projected revenue of $9.5B for 2011. And all indications are that the popularity that makes that profitability possible will only continue to grow. There is plenty of money to go around. 

No amount of money is worth risking player safety. The men that take the field every week are the men that make it all possible. I understand that the NFL is a business. If you are all dollars and cents, think of the players as an investment. For many millions of fans, however, for better or worse, they are idols and sources of local pride and family bonding.

There are many, many thousands of people behind the scenes that play integral roles in bringing games to our stadiums, living rooms, favorite bars, etc… Among them are the referees, who play one of the most crucial roles in preserving the integrity of the game and protecting our players. 

And so I make a plea to NFL team owners to please be the driving force behind a resolution to the lockout. Protect your investment. Protect our players. Help restore the integrity of the game. 

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