Why We Need to Relax About the NFL's Replacement Referees

Whether you follow the NFL or not, you are probably aware that there is something going on with the normal game referees, and that many people seem to be very upset by this. (To summarize the labor issue in one sentence: The usual referees would like more money, but the NFL refuses to pay them and have replaced them with inexperienced workers.) This discontentment reached a climax Monday night as a crucial mistake helped to decide the outcome of the nationally televised Packers vs Seahawks game, ultimately leading to the single worst three minutes of television I've ever witnessed.

Now, I've never met (former NFL quarterback) Steve Young before. But, as a NFL analyst employed by ESPN, he seems like a pretty decent guy. He usually makes clear and lucid points on the pre and post game shows, and, although his ties always seem a tad too big, his suits seem to eschew the general sense of "Make me look like a damn fool"-ness favored by the majority of his retired NFL brethren. Monday night though, as he was providing commentary about the controversial ending of the game, Young spent approximately three minutes speaking with a level of gravity reserved for reporters breaking news about presidential assassinations, Martian invasions, and potentially apocalyptic meteor showers. In fact, if an alien attempted to assassinate President Obama by throwing a mile-long meteor at him, I doubt the demeanor of whoever first broke this news could be any more down than Young's was that night.

This bout of self-seriousness wasn't limited to Young, though, as hundreds of thousands of heart-broken NFL fans staged riots on their keyboards. You could almost hear the cracks in their voices and tears dripping on their keyboards as they tweeted about "the lost integrity of the NFL brand" and penned histrionic Facebook status messages threatening to do something --- boycott the NFL --- that, well, lets just say there's a better chance of Wyclef performing "Gone til November" at the annual Marley brothers' BBQ than that happening.

My point? Yes, it would be nice if the NFL could resolve this labor issue. And yes, the replacement referees have made the games a bit more, um, whimsical, But --- and I say this as a born and bred Pittsburgher who bleeds Steeler black and gold --- get a f**king grip. The NFL's ubiquity seems to have made many of us forget that, for the vast majority of us whose livelihoods aren't directly tied to it, it's nothing but a seasonal source of entertainment --- a f**king game. A multi-billion dollar grossing game, sure, but still a game, a ridiculous game made even more ridiculous by the ridiculous attempts by ridiculous people to assign a ridiculous amount of weight to this medley of ridiculousness.

The only people with a legitimate gripe are the locked out referees, whose ask at the negotiating table is for a little over $3 million more than they're currently making --- a figure that represents 1% of the NFL's gross revenue. (Btw, that's not three million more individually, but three million more collectively. That's it.) That this is making the league look bad is undeniable, and its assumption that these skilled laborers could be so easily replaced is blowing up in its face. It doesn't take a genius economist to see the analogy between how the NFL treats the employees it considers to be on the low end of the totem pole and how the 1% --- or, more specifically, politicians representing the interests of the 1% --- feels about the 99%.

Yet, despite the legitimacy of the referee's stance and the obvious effect its having on the product, it's even more ridiculous to suggest that this situation is ruining the integrity of a league that lied to its members for decades about the long-term effects participating in it would have on their brains. The emperor has no clothes and hasn't had any clothes for years. But, as long as we continue to tune in every Sunday, why should he even care?