Blown call sparks NFL outcry

The football referee crisis may be the only time Americans side against management in a labor dispute

Published September 25, 2012 2:42PM (EDT)

After three weeks of bumbling and griping, it looks like a disastrous game outcome, rather than a grievous personal injury, may force action in the NFL's referee crisis.

Evidence that football causes brain damage is forcing the sport into something resembling an existential crisis. But as some observers wonder whether the NFL is morally defensible, the league has locked out the referees in a labor dispute, sidelining the people most responsible for the players’ safety on the field. Instead the first three weeks of the season have been overseen by a rag-tag bunch of borderline amateur officials who are satisfying nobody.

This has led to some comic moments.  Mark Emmons of the San Jose Mercury News writes:

Some replacements have embarrassed themselves even without a whistle. One was yanked hours before the New Orleans-Carolina game last week because his Facebook page revealed his unabashed Saints fandom. Philadelphia running back LeSean McCoy said another official told him he needed him to play well for his fantasy team.

Last night with the Seattle Seahawks losing by five to the Green Bay Packers, Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson threw a last minute bomb into the end zone. The New York Times described the action:

Seahawks receiver Golden Tate used both hands to shove the Packers’ Sam Shields out of the way — clearly a penalty, but it was not called. The Packers’ M.D. Jennings grabbed the ball and came down with it, and Tate wrapped his arms around Jennings and the ball and tried to take it away from him. One official signaled a score, and the other an interception. The replay upheld the touchdown, with the head official Wayne Elliott later telling reporters: “The ruling on the final play was a simultaneous catch. Reviewed by replay. Play stands. [A catch by] both players goes to the offense.”

Touchdown, the Seahawks win. The overwhelming verdict, however, has been that the Packers' Jennings intercepted the ball in the end zone. The Los Angeles Times reaction captures the general outrage:

It's finally happened. After three weeks of forgetting the rules, losing track of the ball, and haphazardly administering this country's national pastime as if they were salesmen on vacation from Foot Locker, the replacement officials have finally done serious, irrevocable damage. The arrogant NFL's middle-school and small-college substitutes for the locked-out regular officials have finally, actually, literally made one wrong call that decided the outcome of a game.

It was one of the worst calls in the history of the league, yet it might turn out to be one of the best calls if humiliated Commissioner Roger Goodell was listening to the message it sent.

Even viewers who know nothing about footballl can appreciate that the two refs on the scene are in perfect disagreement. It's even clearer in the instant replay:

By Alex Halperin

Alex Halperin is news editor at Salon. You can follow him on Twitter @alexhalperin.

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