NFL Scab Referees and the Return of TV Bloopers

As a child, my family owned just one, lonely Zenith brand television with no remote and no cable box. My fearsome big sister controlled the set under threat of violence and would subject me to the lowest form of entertainment: bloopers. Shows like TV’s Bloopers and Practical Jokes or it’s sad network competition Foul-Ups, Bleeps, and Blunders – which was co-hosted, amazingly, by Don Rickles – blared throughout our house and like a squat, Jewish Scarlett O'Hara, I swore I would never watch such dreck again.

But now the National Football League owners and their Commissioner Roger Goodell, in their infinite greed, has returned the blooper show to the airwaves with the weekly hi-jinks of it’s stumbling, bumbling, scab referees. The lockout of union refs has turned the nation’s Sunday NFL ritual into a profane farce. You could look at it as a living argument for the importance of trained union labor, or like a dangerous practical joke: a group of Sacha Baron Cohens in black and white stripes poking at fans and players to see just how much they’ll take before they snap.

Yesterday we were served the spectacle 49er coach Jim Harbaugh, berating some meek scab into giving him both an extra challenge flag and an additional timeout. Then there was the sight of the referee who threw his hat on the field of play, causing receiver Kevin Ogletree to step on it and slip awkwardly in the end zone. Fortunately his knee ligaments remained attached. But this was all high comedy compared to seeing helmet to helmet hits go unregulated, Bill Belichick physically accosting an official, and 70,000 fans in Baltimore chanting "bullsh*t" in unison for a solid minute. The owners might want to note that it’s only funny until the peasants grab pitchforks.

Then there are the announcers who with few exceptions talk about these foul-ups, bleeps, and blunders like Roger Goodell has electrodes attached to their nether-regions, ready to zap at the slightest critique. In the game I was watching most intently, Washington against the Cincinnati Bengals, it felt like I was viewing Soviet state television. Replays weren't shown to the television audience after missed calls; commercial breaks would cut in rather than dwell on errant whistles; and worst of all, when mentioned, the announcers would speak reverently of the struggles of "replacement referees.”

Calling these scabs “replacement referees” is like calling a befouled outhouse a "replacement toilet." Scour across every minute of every broadcast and the word "scab” is going unuttered. To call them otherwise is like calling a flasher in Central Park, a “penile exposure expert.” Their very existence on this elevated cultural plane degrades all labor, organized or not. Their incompetence is an affront to fans and an actual physical danger to players.

The light at the end of the tunnel, however, is that the NFL Players Association is finally being pro-active in trying to end this. On September 20th, the NFLPA Executive Committee, which includes current players like Drew Brees and Charlie Batch, sent a scathing letter addressed to the owners of NFL teams where they said in part,

“Your decision to lock out officials with more than 1,500 years of collective NFL experience has led to a deterioration of order, safety and integrity.  This affirmative decision has not only resulted in poor calls, missed calls and bad game management, but the combination of those deficiencies will only continue to jeopardize player health and safety and the integrity of the game that has taken decades to build…The headlines are embarrassing: a scab working a game despite having been on the payroll of one of the teams, another who was assigned to referee a team he publicly supported on Facebook, and one who is a professional poker player when you propose even more stringent player rules on gambling… We are all men who love and respect this game and believe that it represents something beyond just money. For our teammates, our coaches and our fans who deserve better, vote to end this lockout now.”

This letter represents an escalation in the NFLPA's rhetoric and direct involvement in the lockout. The next step would be if the players announce that they would not take the field if scabs are also there to officiate. Such a move would end the lockout faster than RG III’s 40-yard sprint-time. Critics will say that a secondary strike might not be legal. Perhaps, but allowing players to put their health in the hands of such incompetents isn’t ethical and the NFLPA has a specific charge to safeguard the safety of the players. They are also the only force in the game capable of ending the madness. We could organize a historic fan boycott 1,000,000 strong and it wouldn’t even make a micro-dent in the NFL’s profit margins. But if only two players on each team, the offensive and defensive captains, held a ten minute press conference saying that the lockout has to end or no more football, then it would end. They would also be showing the bosses, who’s boss. It’s time for a secondary-strike so we can quickly move beyond what is quickly becoming one of the darker chapters in NFL history. Please do it, before someone really gets hurt.

[Dave Zirin is the author of “The John Carlos Story” (Haymarket). Receive his column every week by emailing Contact him at]

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Now someone has been hurt.

Washington Post reports:
"Darius Heyward-Bey was running across the end zone and trying to catch a pass when he was sandwiched between a pair of Steeler defenders. Pittsburgh safety Ryan Mundy hammered the receiver in the chest while his helmet collided with Heyward-Bey’s facemask.

The third-year receiver lost consciousness on the play, and his eyes remained closed for 10 minutes while trainers attended to his motionless body on the turf. The hit did not draw a flag from the officials.

Darius Heyward-Bey was released from Eden Medical Center Monday morning with a concussion and neck strain. He is resting at home and is expected to make a full recovery, according to the report."

And Now The Monday Night Debacle

Of course, now anti-union poster boys Scott Walker and Paul Ryan are calling for a return of the loced out unionized refs:

And fans thought we hated the officiating when the locked out refs were working.

A player walk out might be just what is needed to end this shame we are now enduring on game day.

Scabby scabs

The multi-billionaire owners and their toady Goodell rushed in scab workers a couple months ago. Scab results and scab products are what we're now witnessing.

The multi-billionaire owners with their arrogant and foolhardy power play are toying with the integrity of the game and player safety.

In their attempt to bust the referees' union they don't feel much compunction about turning the NFL into a pro-wrestling like spectacle run by Don King-like charlatans.

NFL owners

let's remember that the NFL owners are given immunity from anti-trust laws, thus enabling them to become a $10 billion annual business...and the refs want $10 million? Give it to them...the refs need to be full time, well paid for being the top of their profession...if you cut corners, Seattle winning on Monday is the result...the greedy NFL owners need to share the wealth...


In the labor market as a whole, illegal immigrants have exactly the effect of scabs. You can't pretend to be a friend of labor while supporting them.

Lets get real

Certainly the rapacious owners deserve the majority of the blame for the scab refs but before we annoint the NFLPA as saviors of the locked-out refs a little history lesson might help. When the NFL players walked out in the 80's did the refs join their union brothers on the picket line? I don't think so. And I don't see any way that the NFLPA will authorize a secondary strike(whatever that means). Of course you might have a courageous(and that's the right word) player strike on his own but I don't see that happening.

The owners are greedy and cheap but the NFLPA's "escalation of rhetoric" as DZ puts it is nothing but more words.

NFL Ref Strike

After watching as many NFL games since the strike began, I'm convinced that the safety of the players is being directly threatened. The last straw was several severe helmet hits on defenseless receivers this past weekend; no penalties called; nobody thrown out of the games.
Scabs are scabs are scabs; poorly trained and now we see totally incompetent to referee any game.
The owners are sheep-dipped in greed.
The only solution is for fans and the players to show up at a game and both before the start, walk out of the stadium.
The old fashioned way of playing "hardball".

Get the scabs off the field

Brudder Zirin's right about the use of scabs in the NFL. I was on strike against New York Telephone back in 1989. During the four-month battle a fellow worker said, "I dreamed I was in a room with Hitler, Stalin, and a scab. I had a .38 with two bullets in it."
"What did you do?" I asked.
"I shot the scab twice!"
Allow me to recommend that readers search-engine "The Scab" by Jack London. Thanx!

Commenter wrong comparing scabs to immigration

"In the labor market as a whole, illegal immigrants have exactly the effect of scabs. You can't pretend to be a friend of labor while supporting them."

You also can't be a friend of labor while supporting NAFTA, GATT, and all the other "free trade" agreements, which leads normally self sustaining Mexican citizens being forced to play by a new set of rules that they had no part in making. Immigration (legal or not) is a result of globalization, scabs are a result of disrespect for workers and worker rights.

Talkin' Bout A Revolution

"We must live together as brothers or perish together as fools."
MLK, St. Louis, 1964
Immigrants are humans beings and consequently can never be "illegal." All humans need food shelter. All immigrants Occupy the same planet as Dan Snyder or Mitt Romney.
We need a "secondary strike" all right." But not one just in support of unionized NFL referees. Until workers across the globe understand that they all share the same war against global capitalism, their position will continue to decline. The battle of our referees against pig, 1% owners is the same struggle as the struggle being fought by East Indian farmers or prison laborers in Scott Walker's Wisconsin.

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Dave Zirin is the author of the book: "Welcome to the Terrordome: The Pain, Politics and Promise of Sports" (Haymarket). You can receive his column Edge of Sports, every week by going to
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