That'll Do, Scabs

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You've almost certainly heard about that Monday Night Football thing. Not on television or on the internet or in a newspaper, although all of those are possible. "Heard" as in "heard, with actual ears, the collective thrumming 'oof' and periodic bellowed hoots of indignation from sea to shining, rageful sea." That ambient and totally justified displeasure speaks for itself; the image at right, courtesy of our dude @Straightbangin speaks even more clearly. But let's talk about it, briefly, anyway.

In a way, the Monday Night game that the scab refs unjustly handed to the Seattle Seahawks almost reflects well upon those refs: it took three weeks for them to undeniably and incontrovertibly transfer a victory from one team to another through sheer overmatched biffery. Given how appallingly and plainly overmatched the refs have been from the jump"These assholes," Drew Magary explains with his usual patience at Slate, "don't know the rules"that is longer than we probably had any right to expect. But games were being bent well out of shape in a bunch of different ways, as Grantland's Charlie Pierce noted, well before the force of scabular incompetence fully uprooted and flipped an outcome on Monday. It has been bad. We've been over this, and so has everyone else.

But, in the wake of the inevitable objectively-fucked-up game result, everyone is going over it again, a little bit louder now. In writing the Daily Fix this morning, I waded some way into this new tide of fresh bile. In writing my column for Vice, I made my contribution to it. There is only so much more to say about this, and only so much more anyone could possibly want to read. Still, there's one thing that bears repeating.

Because for all the fuming and fussing about what happened on Monday, and Sunday, and on the Sundays before, there still seems to be a certain willful missing of the central insult around which all these smaller weekly insults are in orbit. There are the real-time obituaries for The Sanctity Of A Great American Game and the be-spittled demands for action by Roger Goodell or the officials union or both, and those are all understandable if maybe somewhat overstated. There are silly but tellingly of-the-moment semantic debates and meta-assignments of blame or causality and facepalm-y "insider" considerations of what this will do to/for Roger Goodell's "legacy," which are less understandable and more dumb, but recognizably representative of the weird distance and celebrity-addled fatuity and petulant self-prioritization to be found in various corners of the sports discourse.

But there is, finally, only one thing to find at the bottom of all this, and it's worth repeating. This whole florid thing springs from a cold—and, it seems so far, astutecalculation on the part of the NFL's Rand-oid ownership class. That calculation, which is not precisely new but has a new manifestation over these last three weeks, is that people will watch NFL games no matter what, no matter how slow or poor or wrong or off or dangerous things are allowed to become on the field. Take away the recent developments—the touchdown catch that shouldn't have been; the players hesitantly moving towards solidarity with the refs; professional line-toe'rs like Jim Nantz struggling to find polite ways to describe the moraine of bullshit his bosses' righteous avarice has deposited over the last three weeks—and this all boils down to a very well-considered middle finger from the owners to everyone else involved in the broader NFL transaction.

Owners asked NFL refs to quit their day jobs, then offered them a 16% pay cut; the sticking point now is a pension obligation that amounts to something on the order of $300,000 per team, per season. This should not be insurmountable, but it is: the officials are not budging, and the feudal vanity cases in the ownership suites are standing on noxious principle, righteously living out union-busting fap-fantasies (for a second straight year!) because they believe they can and will survive all this both intact and some small amount richer.

All of us, fans and owners and bloggers and players and people who are merely sick of seeing their Twitter feeds choked with all these different flavors of righetousness, want the games to go on with the real officials. The only people with the power to do anything about that are in the owners' boxes, the ones Jim Nantz tells his little stories about. That they haven't and won't pay up to make their hugely profitable product palatable says a good deal about them. It says a lot more about how they think of us, and of the game that enriches them. I won't pretend to know what you or I can do about this problem; it's tangled, and the NFL's decision-makers have made clear that the one-sided argument that's so compromised the season so far has little to do with us, or what we might want. But we might as well understand the problem as what it is.

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Lost in all the furor over the refs "stealing" the game from the Packers on the last play is the fact that they were horrendous all game in both directions. Green Bay doesn't score their go-ahead touchdown without a phantom pass interference call on Kam Chancellor, not to mention some of the most blatant non-called holding I've ever seen basically the entire second half.

I agree that the scabs refs are in way over their heads and the way the NFL is handling this labor dispute is offensive on a lot of levels. But as a Seahawks fan, I bristle at the "of course the Seahawks couldn't beat the Packers without intervention from the scab refs" tone that basically all of the national media coverage has taken today.

The whole thing was hard to watch, not just the final play.

I actually missed a lot of the game, as I was at the far-harder-to-watch Mets/Pirates game in Queens. But yeah, from what I've read this 1) sucked from stem-to-stern, and 2) overshadows what looked like a pretty great Seahawks effort. No one wants to win this way, though, I'm sure. No one should.

Having watched the whole game as a neutral fan, I'd say the first half was rather well officiated and the Seahawks defense completely dominated. But at halftime Rodgers and the Pack made better adjustments, getting rid of the ball faster and executing better. But the second half is also very hard to judge properly, because that's when the officiating went to hell. There was the terrible DPI on Chancellor, but I think the worst call of the entire game was a DPI on Sam Shields. Sidney Rice Pushed off, grabbed his facemask and yanked him away from the ball. Sam Shields never even touched Rice, but they called DPI on Shields. It didn't lead to a score, but it was the worst call I've seen so far.

This also fits into the pattern of Owners/Corporations locking out employees as a standard negotiating tactic. Disgusting bullshit. I am glad you are tackling this through the labor paradigm.

If anyone is curious, is a very cool website/tool that has a list of all the NFL owners and a lot of information on how they make their money, what boardrooms they sit in, and what politicians they give money to. Click around.

The point I wonder is how long the NFL can keep it up before their sheer disregard for their product finally results in income loss, aka the only thing they care about. This is a week 3 debacle: both teams can still recover and fail from this moment. But if games like this continue to occur as the season progresses, casual fans and fans of the negatively impacted teams might stop watching and going to games, and at this point it is affecting the pocketbooks of the owners. I can see this lockout lasting for most of the season, but if it goes into the playoffs viewership is going to take a huge hit. People are going to stop caring about football as football becomes more and more of a farce. It'll take a while, but it'll happen. A business can only survive for so long with a shit product.

True, but I wonder if this debacle will actually drive UP ratings for a while. The games are still going on, you know? I think (and hope) that what would end this in a hurry is if the players threatened action.

My worry here, besides management crushing labor, is that a player will get killed.

I think a player is going to die on the field someday even with the real refs onboard. I just have that gut feeling. But it's certainly far more likely with these replacements who can't control the players. DHB almost died in the Raiders game, and Mundy didn't even get flagged for the blatantly illegal hit.

I wrote (oddly, because it was WSJ, in my inside voice) about that Constantly Being On The Precipice of Horror aspect of the NFL, and that part won't significantly change with the real refs there. But I do sort of wonder what could even be done to make this stick, short of not watching or attending or buying. There's such a thing as "good heat" and "bad heat," but I don't know if they pay differently enough for NFL owners to give up on whatever ideological fantasy -- 31 Reagans sticking it to 31 PATCO's or something -- is animating this particular bit of hard-assery.