It's Over: The NFL's Union Referees Return to Work in Style

The NFL referee lockout is over and we now have an answer to the question, "What does it take to pierce the shame-free cocoon of unreality where NFL owners reside?" All you need, it seems, is condemnation across the political spectrum ranging from the President of the United States to small-town mayors, to even anti-union corporate lickspittles like Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker. All you need is one of your flagship teams, the Green Bay Packers, publicly threatening to strike or "take a knee on every play." All you need are your star quarterbacks Aaron Rodgers and Drew Brees blasting your product. All you need are online petitions with miles of signatures and 70,000 fans calling the league offices in the 24 hours following the debacle of a Monday night game between the Seattle Seahawks and the Green Bay Packers. All of this collective scorn finally punctured the owners' magical mental space, bringing them to the negotiating table to settle.

The deal is damn near a slam dunk for the NFL referees. Remember the root of this lockout was two-fold: the league wanted to end the pension system and ban refs from holding jobs outside of the sport. Now the league will continue—and even increase—the pension payouts for the next five years before a negotiated transfer to a 401K. Refs will also be given a 25% hike in pay starting next year, with more salary increases until the end of the seven-year agreement. The NFL owners wanted to hire 21 more officials to phase in as full-time employees. The refs agreed to seven new full time hires, and no restrictions on their own abilities to take outside work. In other words, Roger Goodell and the owners were shellacked by the same people they locked out, dismissed, and disrespected. The now infamous words of NFL VP Ray Anderson, “You’ve never paid for an NFL ticket to watch someone officiate a game", is now the league’s version of “You’re doing a heckuva job Brownie.”

But there is a bigger story here as well: the entire country received a High Def, prime time lesson in the difference between skilled, union labor and a ramshackle operation of unskilled scabs. When Scott Walker is sticking up for the union, you know we've arrived at a teachable moment worth shouting from the hills. People who care about stable jobs with benefits and reversing the tide of inequality in the United States should seize this moment. We should ask not only the Scott Walkers of the world but politicians of both parties drinking from the same neoliberal fever-swamp: why do you think we need skilled union labor on the football field but not in our firehouses, our classrooms, or even our uranium facilities? Similarly players need to be asking questions to the owners: how can you actually posture like you care about our health and safety ever again after subjecting us to this hazardous environment the first three weeks of the season, or as Drew Brees put it on twitter, "Ironic that our league punishes those based on conduct detrimental. Whose CONDUCT is DETRIMENTAL now?"

Lastly, it's another embarrassment after a year of embarrassments, for NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell. He has through his arrogance created an asterisk on this season, left an indelible mark on his legacy as commissioner, and created a crisis of confidence in his ability to do his job. He learned that people may not pay to watch referees but they do pay to watch a competently officiated contest. He also hopefully learned that if there's one thing people don't pay to watch, it's him: sweating before the cameras and doing his damnedest to make the NFL a reflection of the worst corporate arrogance. Hear the message Roger. This nine billion dollar league? This unprecedented popularity? This limitless national audience? You didn't build that. Your owners didn't build that. The sponsors didn't build that. It was built by the blood, sweat, and tears of those on the field of play including the referees. It was built by fans who invest their passion and the tax payers who have underwritten your archipelago of mega-domes in cities across the country. I can't wait for the union refs to be cheered when they take the field this weekend. We may go back to booing them after the firstplay, but it will be with respect: respect earned because they stood as one  and beat the NFL bosses.

For more on the referee lockout, watch Dave Zirin talk about how the dispute highlighted the problem of class in the US on Democracy Now!

6 Reader Comments | Add a comment,,

hey, maybe sports do matter...

Methinks it also took the spectre (after Sunday night's Ravens-Patriots game)

of all those stadiums full of fans doing the euphemistic "manure chant" on national TV. Coast-To-Coast, Game By Game. For every week that the scab refs were officiating.

The fans in revolt. OMFG.

Roger Goodell and the owners crapped the bed BIG TIME on this issue. Couldn't happen to better folks.
(Green Bay Packers 100,000+ shareholders excepted)

A prophetic comment. . .

I think some of you may remember Scott's comment from Dave's column of August 28, when this mess started:

Those don't matter much to the NFL. However, when a series of screwed up calls by the replacement refs affects gambling results, you'll see a swift resolution of the impasse.

Scott hit it right on the head! And big mouths like Tornado can't do a damn thing about it!


There is one thing that the owners' money can't buy, integrity. That's what an expert ref provides - a game called as fairly and as expertly as possible by the best refs available. While the scab refs were working, this was not the case.

What the owners really wanted, they got: a Defined-Contribution pension, as opposed to the Defined-Benefit one which they have now. In fact the key words in Goodell's speech were these:
"Defined Benefit pensions are a thing of the past."
Sez Who? Another comment I read was that "Even Godell does not have a Defined Benefit plan." I feel sorry for him; the poor guy only makes 9 million, soon to be raised to 20!

The NFL Referees

Dave continues to explain history from the bottom up. NBA lock out of players, NFL Lock out of players, NFL lock out of refs, now NHL lockout of players, what is wrong with this picture. For some fans "social issues" are either irrelevant or marginal to their consciousness, for Edge of Sports Dave explains sports as central to U.S. business and culture and asks us to see the big picture and figure out "which side are you on?" A great victory for the refs and another "on the money" story by DZ.

Fake Hublot Watches

There is an massive trend in the Reproduction watches about the planet.

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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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