Unless you’re living under a rock today, you’ve surely already heard about the debacle at the end of last night’s Packers-Seahawks game. Replacement referees – already affecting the outcomes of games with regular old terrible calls – finally directly changed the winner of a game with a single blown call.
Or, actually, it was two blown calls. The aspect of this play that’s been getting the most coverage is the disputed interception/touchdown, partially because that’s the most dramatic part, partially because it’s so shocking that this call was blown even after video replay, and partially because this .gif of two officials seeing the same play and making conflicting calls has become the enduring symbol of the officiating clusterfuck this season.
But really, whether or not Golden Tate achieved enough possession of this ball to be awarded the touchdown should have been completely irrelevant. Just a second before the action of that .gif, Tate took both hands and shoved Green Bay defensive back Sam Shields out of the way, a clear case of offensive pass interference that would have negated the touchdown catch and ended the game even if it had been made cleanly.
What we are seeing in this replacement referee fiasco is the most public demonstration yet of the perils of the union-busting ethos that has taken over the top rungs of corporate America and bled over into the sports world. In the case of labor disputes with the players, as we saw in both the NFL and NBA last season, there was a certain recognition from ownership that the players were important and they could not be locked out indefinitely without consequence. This recognition kept the bargaining table open, and both the NBA and NFL lockouts were resolved before the season was lost.
In the case of the referees, however, it is clear that Roger Goodell and the owners feel no impetus to bargain, and perhaps not even after this fiasco on the sport’s biggest stage. From the perspective of the owners, unless the popularity of the sport goes down, why should they care? As Steve Young has repeated constantly on ESPN, demand for the NFL is inelastic. No matter what the refs do, people will still buy tickets, still buy jerseys, still watch the game on TV and buy the things that get advertised.
In other words, the position of the owners can be summarized thus: We know this lockout is making our product shitty, but you dummies are still gonna buy it anyway. And really, what could be a more appropriate attitude for this moment in American history?
In fairness to the owners, though, I don’t think that when they locked out the referees, they were intending to make the product shitty. I think instead they simply completely discounted the fact that being an NFL referee is a job that requires a high level of skill to be done competently. Instead of viewing the referees as valuable partners essential to quality, all the owners saw was base human capital. “Referee? How hard can that be. Throw some Division III guys in there, we’ll be fine.”
And that, more than “you dummies are gonna buy it anyway,” is the truly apt attitude. In today’s culture – in which millionaires are hard-working job-creating Atlases who have deigned to grace us with their munificence, while poor people and the middle class are just schmucks who should have tried harder to get ahead; in which Mitt Romney says 47% of the country will never vote for him because they are lazy scumbags bought off by Democrats with the proffer of government’s teat – what could be more appropriate than treating referees, the lowest branch on professional football’s money tree, as interchangeable and disposable? Why not squeeze the refs for an extra $100,000 per team? It’s not a lot of money but fuck them, they’re just refs, why would I ever pay them more than I absolutely have to?
There is class warfare in this country, but it’s not found in President Obama calling on the wealthy to “pay their fair share” by raising the top marginal tax rate slightly. It’s this right here in the NFL, this thing where the rich make themselves richer by squeezing every last red cent out of their middle class and poor workers, and just close down shop if those workers show the slightest bit of backbone. Whether its corporations busting unions on their factory floors or corporate allies in government trying to ban collective bargaining rights for public employees and slashing government benefits and services for the poor and middle class while cutting taxes for the rich, the face of today’s class warfare is more Crassus than Robespierre.