Roger Goodell and the Wacky Referee Lockout: A Tragic and Comical Story

Logophilia runs in my family. There’s no known cure, doctors say, but it seems to hurt less when the words flow both ways. Ingest a few chapters from a book in the morning, expel a blog post later that afternoon. If you can make a living eating and shitting–metaphorically speaking–wouldn’t you?

My brother and his wife Kristin started The Found Generation together, where they help write the words a business needs to interact and connect with consumers, and “content excellence” is the #1 product. Kristin also writes about business and marketing for Forbes and, where yesterday she published a piece on football.

She looked at the NFL’s referee lockout from a financial and marketing perspective, and argued that the NFL is risking its credibility as a trustworthy, venerable institution–a reputation it spent decades building, she notes–in a dispute over 0.16% of its annual revenue. She concludes that the “season is still young; there’s time to resolve the issue and begin to rebuild the lost trust. If the NFL acts humbly, admits its mistakes and ends the lockout, all can be forgotten in a matter of weeks or even days.” The Warren Peace NFL Report agrees with her analysis wholeheartedly.

This is what businesspeople think play diagrams look like

ESPN analyst Jon Gruden called the replacement refs’ performance “tragic and comical.” It’s sad a high-profile oopsy is what it took to rouse the league from its complacency–as if it wasn’t inevitable–but thankfully for players and fans, the NFL reached an agreement with the referees’ union early this morning. The regulars will be back in time for the week 4 games, beginning tonight when the Browns play the Ravens. The three-game stretch that opened the year will be remembered only as a footnote, if it’s remembered at all.

When you look at it from a financial perspective, as Kristin showed, the lockout was shortsighted at best, laughably stupid at worst. How could a multi-billion dollar business be so monstrously mismanaged? A boss with a narcissistic ego leads to a dysfunctional ethos across the entire organization, which leads to counterproductive actions. The referees’ union asked for more than Roger Goodell decreed they deserve. This wasn’t business anymore, it was a personal affront to the commissioner’s authority. Punishing this subordination was now more important than putting the best possible product on the field. It’s all too consistent with Goodell’s NFL, one more example of the kind of embarrassing affair that define his time as commissioner.

(EDIT: We were right! As the WSJ posted, “according to one owner who has been briefed by league officials on the issue, the disagreement with the referees is more ideological than it is financial.” Duh.)

As I understand it, Roger Goodell’s job is to do what’s best for the NFL as a whole. His understanding of his job is quite different. His actions suggest that he thinks his job is primarily to enforce discipline, interpreting the league’s rules through decisions based on an arbitrary and constantly changing definition of the “integrity of the game.” Consumed by self-important despotism, his myriad punishments for rule breaking are often more harmful to the league than whatever the initial infraction was. He doesn’t care if he’s chiefly punishing the fans, whether the transgressor was actually affiliated with the NFL or not when the offense occurred, or even if any rules were actually broken. In Goodell’s NFL you can be punished severely–to the tune of $36 million, in the case of the Redskins–for obeying the rules, but in a manner he didn’t approve of.

I think it’s hilarious that Goodell gets booed every year at the draft in New York. Football fans love football; Goodell loves only himself. It must hurt him inside, the booing, and make his black heart even more shriveled and bitter. But instead of developing the warmth and compassion that would make fans show him the love that he needs, and every year he loses a little more humanity. He stuffs haughty, hateful pride where happiness and affection for others should be, and every year the vicious cycle spins faster. Last year he took out his hostility on the players’ union, this year the referees’ union, and next year, who knows? Only the millionaire owners are safe from his loathing, for only their hearts are as black and dead as his.


EDIT: The Washington Post has a good short history of the concept of refereeing.:

“British rugby operated under an honor code. Team captains acted as the rule keepers, and “fair play” was so ingrained that when penalty kicks were instituted to punish fouls, some were outraged. Oriard quotes one British gentleman: “It is a standing insult to sportsmen to have to play under a rule which assumes that players intend to trip, hack and push their opponents and behave like cads of the most unscrupulous kind.”

But when the American cousins made their own football rules in 1876, the first thing they did was do institute referees, and the reason, according to Oriard, was their wish to redefine scruple so they could play in a more powerful and less chokingly traditional way. Our game was an inherently rule-breaking experience, a celebration of both American physical strength and invention. The constant bending of rules was an expression of Yankee ingenuity, what Oriard calls the “American genius” for circumventing old rules. Walter Camp wrote in 1894 that “the Rugby code was all right for Englishmen who had been brought up upon traditions,” but it tolerated “no innovation.” Which was no fun…

Referees were needed because games were interrupted by furious arguments that lasted for a half-hour, and every rule was treated as something to be outwitted and exploited. Linemen picked up handfuls of dirt and flung it in their opposite’s eyes. Punches and kicks were routine and so was biting. Star players were targeted for “crippling.” The mass-formation plays gave cover for all kinds of fouls that left men on the field with broken collarbones and cracked ribs. Pop Warner, who played at Penn, recalled that players “free lunched” on each other’s legs.

Every week that the NFL puts bungling, inept referees on the field, we will go further back in time. The failure of the owners to anticipate how teams would respond to weak officiating is telling. It tells us how ignorant of the game they really are, how insulated and above it, how spoiled by their skyboxes and bottles of Caymus Select. They planned for four years and built a war chest for last year’s lockout of the players. But they apparently were so haughty, they were blind to the repercussions of a ref lockout, to the fact that men who fight for a living would respond to blown calls with explosive rage.”


About The Warren Peace NFL Report

Warren is Redskins fan living in Bronco country. He’s co-founder of the Team Tomorrow ski and snowboard team, and a guy at the bar last Sunday told him, “you know a lot about football for a weirdo.” His favorite conversation about football happened sitting inside a giant volcano at Colorado's regional Burning Man high on LSD.
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3 Responses to Roger Goodell and the Wacky Referee Lockout: A Tragic and Comical Story

  1. “NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell and his owner-masters have lost control of what they so smugly refer to as their “product” — as if pro football is an Amana toaster oven. Regardless of right or wrong in the labor dispute with officials, the league is guilty of gross malpractice: Before they locked out the refs, they should have made sure some replacements were halfway decently trained. ”

    After all, games are getting dirty and dangerous.

  2. From the linked Deadspin article: “The NFL locked out its referees in the name of taking away their pensions. It was not that the pensions were a threat to the long-term fiscal survival of the league—again and again, we were reminded that the sums involved were pocket change in a growing, multi-billion dollar enterprise. It was that the pensions existed at all. The mere existence of a defined-benefit retirement plan offended an ownership class that had looked around and seen that every other business owner in America had already broken that particular contract…

    “How does ripping up the pension program identifiably serve the league’s practical interests, anyway?

    “…Goodell talks incessantly about protecting “the [NFL] shield”… His whole tenure has been a prolonged and infinitely smarmy exercise in shifting risk and liability off the league and onto the help. He changes the rules midseason to put the onus for player health onto the players themselves. He wages an “ideological” battle to expose the refs to the whims of the market.”

  3. Pingback: The Greatest 60 Seconds of Football | The Warren Peace NFL Report

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