, Port Arthur, Texas

Bob West

September 6, 2012

Best of West: Replacement refs another example of NFL arrogance

PORT ARTHUR —  Editor’s note: The following column from the Best of West collection was first published in the Port Arthur News on Sept. 5, 2001.

 On the public sympathy scale, the quest among NFL officials for a substantial pay raise probably ranks them somewhere between Gary Condit and the Internal Revenue Service.

 It is, after all, a fact of life that striped shirts in all sports are basically perceived as the enemy and treated with disdain.

 Dating back to childhood, most everyone has memories of being done wrong by somebody blowing a whistle or calling balls and strikes. Usually it was on purpose by a despicable form of humanity whose mission in life was to inflict misery.

 On other occasions, the guy was just blind, deaf dumb and incompetent.

 My dad, who didn't appreciate my attitude toward officials, used to tell me I was the only kid who ever played three years of high school basketball and never committed a foul. He was right, of course.

 Bottom line, then, is our American heritage dictates that we view officials as a cross between Jesse James and Ray Charles. We all know there's a standing room only special corner of hell reserved for every referee who maliciously stole a game from our favorite team.

 It is that attitude, by the way, which is exactly what the NFL is banking on in it's hardball farce of using replacement officials. The NFL, which has a better propaganda machine than the Clinton White House, figures Joe Fan's lifelong disdain toward officials will play heavily into forcing a settlement favorable for the league.

 Let me suggest, however, that you the fan try to look beyond your anti-official feelings, your sickness for the seeming nonstop financial bickering in sports and the NFL's impressive spin-control monster. There is more to this than meets the eye, and a big part of it involves the NFL's hypocrisy toward the fan.

 NFL officials are asking for equal pay with baseball umpires, NBA referees and NHL zebras. While there is room for debate on this issue, because there are considerably more games played in the aforementioned sports, there is little room to debate that what the officials are asking is a drop in the bucket to what has become a multi-billion dollar industry.

 Here are a few things fans needs to clearly understand before following  their natural instincts and siding with the NFL:

 • NFL officials are the most scrutinized in professional sports and, as such, spend 30-to-40 hours per week preparing for each assignment. 

 • They travel every weekend during the preseason, regular-season and post-season, and are required to be at the game site 24-hours ahead of time. 

 • They are the last line of credibility and integrity for a fast, violent sport with complicated rules that require split-second decisions. 

 • They have been underpaid for years, while NFL prosperity has mushroomed to the point its owners are guaranteed a profit before the first ticket is sold. 

 • In their absence, the game will suffer much more than you have been led to believe.

  NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue is very much aware of all of the above, especially the part about credibility and integrity. That did not, however, stop Tagliabue from rationalizing the need for replacement officials by saying the league owed it to the fans to be prepared to start the season on time.

 Yeah, right. Just like the NFL owed it to the fans to counter a 1987 player strike by using scab replacements during the regular season.

 But hey, greedy people who worship the money-god have no conscience. This is, after all, a league that allows an owner to put a gun to the head of tax-paying  citizens for the purposes of getting newer, bigger stadiums built.

 For those cities that don't buckle under, as in the case of Houston and Bud Adams, the carpetbagging owner is allowed to accept another towns millions to relocate.

 And, for the cities which do pay the blackmail, Joe Fan's reward is ticket prices he can't possibly afford.

The first step in obtaining season tickets in a new stadium, for instance, is forking over serious dollars for something called a PSL (Personal Seat License). The price of the ticket is not included. It's extra.

 Plus, as an extension of owner greed, fans with season tickets are required to buy pre-season game tickets at regular-season prices. These pre-season affairs are just scrimmages played mostly with reserves, yet they are also games for which the owners don't have to share revenue with the players.

 So the fan is billed steak prices for lunch meat.

 Up in Dallas, meanwhile, Cowboys owner Jerry Jones is playing Metroplex cities against each other for the privilege of building him a new 100,000-seat stadium. Jones has already let it be known he expects the taxpayers to provide some $500 million toward the project. If they don't??? 

 Well, maybe Los Angeles might be ready for some football.

 Yet another rip-off for Joe Fan is the salary cap. Thanks to the cap, which the players union foolishly agreed to, there is a limit on how much an owner can spend on salaries.

 Because of that limit, big portions of the cap go to star players. Once rookies are paid, nothing is left to compensate the journeyman player who in the past insured experienced depth.

 As a result, the overall quality of the NFL game is down. But profits are up, up, up. Also up, thanks to Fantasy Football Leagues and the millions wagered each week, is popularity.

 So why shouldn't officials demand a king-sized piece of the pie?

 Sports editor Bob West can be e-mailed at


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Bob West