Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Dear NFL:

I am a fan.

In fact, I am your target fan: young, active, somewhere between "casual" and "die-hard," with some disposable income and the general desire to fly my team's colors.

But clearly, you don't care.

I've been getting steadily more frustrated with the referee situation this year and last night was easily more than I could handle. Note: the entire game was ridiculous on both sides of the ball. But the one play you had the chance to correct, you decided to tell me instead that I and 14 million other viewers were all wrong.

This is a problem.

Now, this game could be infamous in and of itself. However, this comes at the end of a very long week of football. Three coaches -- at least -- lost their cool this week and are being penalized, and they weren't even the hotheaded ones we expected it from. In-game penalties are up by one per team, per game over last year -- and last year the players barely had time to practice beforehand. There were a number of particularly nasty injuries, including one that landed a player in the hospital and two where the injuries were season-enders. All on one single Sunday afternoon.

And yet ... nothing.

Let's be clear: had you chosen to overturn last night's final ruling, you'd look just as impotent. Your choices were "correct an inexperienced ref you put in a terrible position" or "stand by an incompetent ref you put in a terrible position." The problem is that it happened in the first place and the blame is on your shoulders.

You have lost control of this game and it's only going to get worse. The more time that passes, the more foolish you will look.

Worse yet, you have expectations for those you are affecting without a grip on reality. First, there are beleaguered replacement refs that can not give up now. In the meantime, you expect good behavior from players and coaches, all while you continue to provoke them. You want players to play nice when they have little motivation to do so. You expect coaches -- who get angry about calls in a normal game -- to be more forgiving of worse calls. And then you expect them to all keep their mouths shut when their product is affected.

Yet you see nothing wrong with this.

The labor demands, as I understand them, are not as unreasonable as you would have us believe. (Thank goodness for Wikipedia or I wouldn't even know what the dispute was. I almost have to assume you guys don't want us to know.) They're certainly not as extensive or expensive as the demands were with the players' association last year, and you managed to reach an agreement there.

There is, of course, a fundamental difference. Without players, there would have been no season and you would have been out millions. Without refs ... well, clearly they're replaceable.

Shame on you.

You are slowly but surely destroying your brand and your own reputations. Not those of the players or the coaches or the teams -- we know they're not in control here and we're probably going to end up forgiving them for what happens during games as it seems they have little effect.

You know we won't quit watching or quit buying, and by all means, why should we? Our teams need to know they have fan support now more than ever. Yet you take this as proof that you can do what you want. At best, you're ignoring the problem. At worse, you're interfering, either "fixing" gaffes with a blanket "They were right" statement or by simply insisting that we put up or shut up. What you're doing is bordering on abuse of power, or at the very least the equivalent of a schoolyard bully stomping his foot and demanding we hand over our lunch money.

You have accomplished one thing, though. For the first time ever, the American public is siding with the officials.

The line of scrimmage is the place to be unmovable, not the negotiation room. Do your job. Reach a compromise. The refs are willing to work with you and your blatantly totalitarian approach is only making this worse.

This season will certainly go down in history. Like the player strikes in the '80s, we will be able to tell our kids about the officials' lockout. Unfortunately, it'll be in the context of, "Well, at least it's not like 2012 -- we had refs for this game."

I am a fan, and you have forgotten me.

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