Watching the NFL Officials lose control in the second weekend of the season re-confirmed a universal (albeit problematic) truth: human beings need regulation.
The replacement officials are not morons; they simply lack the experience to work at the NFL level. Whether they knew what they were getting into by entering a labor dispute for a shot at working the "big leagues" is another discussion.
What has emerged on the gridiron is a primal example of what happens when the strongest are unregulated. It's pigskin Social Darwinism. Football Laissez Faire!
Players are taking advantage of the refs' ineptitude to grab, claw and hit their way to success. They are following Herm Edwards' maxim and "[playing] to win the game." The drive to succeed, combined with supernormal ability, is what we love about athletes. However, that drive can get out of hand.
What some members of our society (including, evidently, NFL owners) don't wish to admit is that human beings cannot be depended upon to "do the right thing." Unchecked, the biggest and "fittest" will always push the envelope in pursuit of their goals. While this creates a foolproof evolutionary system, it does not succeed unbridled in a civilized culture. This is why we need laws, moral codes and labor unions.
Will some humans always do the right thing, even in the face of fabulous wealth, power, adulation and success? Absolutely. We call them saints. For the rest of us, this kind of temptation is too great for our "better angels" to overcome. The goals of the most powerful do not consider the aspirations of anyone else. Like, say, a quarterback's desire to survive the afternoon.
That's the reason games have rules. To ensure an orderly and fair competition. In football, those rules focus on three essential game principles:
1) Equal access to success/prevention of unfair advantage via leverage (holding, pass interference) or timing (false starts, etc.)
2) Sportsmanship as an example of self-control in the interests of harmony
3) Avoidance of injury
Without rules, there is no game -- there is only aggressive chaos. For a definition of "aggressive chaos," please see Week 2's Monday Night Football telecast.
Unfortunately, the same assertive instincts that make rules necessary lead to breaking those rules. If people could be counted on to follow the rules, penalties would not exist. Enter the need for regulators to assess those penalties: game officials, police, courts.
There are three problems with the NFL's assertion that the replacement officials are adequate.
1) The number of un-called fouls, mishandled single-play calls, non-reversal of said mishandled calls and game delays were overwhelming on the second weekend of NFL play.
2) In the absence of oversight, some players are pushing further to see what they can get away with. It's only a matter of time before every team loses a star player and multiple teams lose franchise quarterbacks.
The St. Louis Rams/Washington Redskins game had moments of pure Donnybrook and MNF's first quarter dissolved into a bar room brawl. Even assuming that Rams DB Cortland Finnegan can push every opponent past the breaking point or that Josh Morgan needs to get a grip, the cheap shots are mounting.
Washington LB London Fletcher is lucky to have escaped the cart after a particularly vicious impact and two of the NFL's hottest rising star QBs were pummeled far beyond what a legitimate official would have allowed. Of course both the Denver and Atlanta offensive lines resorted to holding -- who wants to be the guy that allowed Peyton Manning or Matt Ryan to get hurt?
At what point does the NFL step in to protect their own investments in these players? You know that Daniel Snyder got an earful from Mike Shanahan. Who would want to be a San Francisco owner with Jim Harbaugh on the phone these days? Or a Modell with John H. calling?
3) The quality of the NFL experience is going downhill at a Giant-Slalom rate. When the lockout began, many thought that bad calls would probably even out over time. And they probably will. What wasn't taken into account is the intense frustration of viewing an horrendously officiated game.
Waiting for officials to catch up to the game, pick up flags, engage in endless confabs, change calls because someone yelled at them -- or seeing them helpless to stop a bench-clearing fight is not entertaining. Fans don't want to see people's heads being twisted off while so many mistakes are made that no one even knows who really won the game.
Players are in danger and the game is becoming unwatchable in part because the replacement officials lack what could be called "gravitas," among other less printable nouns. Reasons for this insufficiency of spine are debatable, but when flagrant fouls occur in full view of officials and the perpetrators are unchallenged or when referees visibly cringe as they make an unpopular announcement and are booed -- one has to face facts. These replacement officials are afraid.
In fairness, few among us could stand up to an angry 6'9", 300 lb. defensive lineman. However, we're not the ones out there pretending to be NFL referees. It takes some courage to be a cop. If every alpha-leaning person played by the rules, law enforcement wouldn't be needed. Either accept the authority of the position and step up -- or get off the field before Alex Smith ends up hospitalized and can't enjoy his newfound NFL street cred.
Humans the world over have acknowledged that we cannot police ourselves and have developed governmental systems to "insure domestic tranquility." Regulation isn't optional. At the bank, the factory or on the football field.
NFL owners are not morons either; they just don't care. As long as they make their money, why should they do anything other than systematically dismantle every affiliated union and institute every policy that improves their bottom line, regardless of consequence? After all, there is no shortage of people lining up to play football and be pro referees -- probably for free. Why pay for the best, when any old player or official will do and American fans will still support the sport?
Football fans are not powerless. We are the consumers. If our government doesn't regulate an industry, we have to become our own referees. The penalty that we can enforce is to simply refrain from pouring dollars into NFL coffers until we are again offered an acceptable product.
No one would seriously suggest that NFL aficionados watch reality television on Sundays or burn their season tickets. However, perhaps a few millions of us could put off the purchase of that bright orange Manning jersey until after qualified officiating returns to the gridiron.
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