Yesterday served as Week 2 of the National Football League season, and amidst the touchdown celebrations and goal-line stands, fans who watched the games were provided with another reminder for why this season has been different than years past. Due to labor disputes with the 119 regular officials, the NFL started play with a hodgepodge of replacement referees — some of whom have never even stepped foot on a college football field.
Employing unprofessional referees raises serious safety concerns. These officials are inexperienced and intimidated when dealing with the high level of play that has resulted in countless head injuries. Yes, there are rules, but those rules are moot without an effective means of enforcement. And when refs do not know the rules well enough, players’ safety is further jeopardized.
The referee strike was a direct result of the NFL’s proposal to change their pension plan, which, under new guidelines, would disappear and be replaced with a 401(k). Not surprisingly, officials from the referee’s union detested the proposal outright.
Commissioner Roger Goodell has been hypocritical by lauding his leadership in an age of medical awareness on traumatic brain injury inflicted by the sport. This is the same man who advocated for an 18-game season and has put a growing trend of player suicides and lawsuits from thousands more on the backburner.
The NFL fines players $50,000 for helmet-to-helmet hits and recently donated $30 million to the National Institute of Health for brain research, but the professionals paid and trained to directly protect the health and safety of the players can’t even make it onto the field.
If each team pitched in $100,000, a very tiny portion of their revenue, they would seal the rift between the demands of the referees and the league’s alleged commitment to player safety. This is a small price to pay for ensuring the well-being of players and the future safety of the sport.
A version of this article appeared in the Monday, Sept. 17 print edition. Email the WSN Editorial Board at email@example.com.
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