Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Flag on the Field

In response to the growing criticism of the caliber of replacement NFL referees, the Republican ticket publicly reversed course today and stated their unequivocal support for the referee’s union in their standoff with league owners and Roger Goodell.  Political observers believed that backing the league in the dispute was hurting the GOP’s chances in the football-crazed industrial Midwest.  

This position reversal in favor of union employees represents a marked turn of events for Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan.  Known as staunch anti-union zealots, the running mates bowed to public pressure from their core constituencies in Ohio and Wisconsin to back professional referees against the NFL.  By backing the referee’s union against the powerful NFL, they hope to stem any potential loss of support in these states key to their electoral chances in November.  Recent polls have Romney running slightly ahead of Obama among white middle class football fans who paint their faces on game day, but the gap has closed. 

The professional referees were locked out by the league beginning this season, and are seeking league concessions in pay, benefits and job security.   The league countered by hiring ‘scabs’, or replacement referees from the lower tiers of football, including high school referees and former referees from the Lingerie Football League.  The league hoped that fans would not notice the difference in officiating, but that hope was misplaced.

The issue of replacement referees has been simmering with voters since the beginning of the season, and came to a head on Sunday and Monday nights.  On Sunday night, the NBC national broadcast was marred by Baltimore fans chanting their displeasure with an on-field call.  “Bullshit!” could be heard loud and clear through the telecast, a clear embarrassment to a league that goes out of its way to protect the NFL ‘shield’, or brand.  Last night, the game between the Seattle Seahawks and the Green bay Packers was decided on a controversial play.  On the game’s final play, the Packers had apparently intercepted the ball in the end zone, thereby securing a 5 point victory.  One referee signaled for a touchback while a second referee simultaneously signaled touchdown.  After a booth review of the play the touchdown was confirmed, despite all visual evidence to the contrary.

Fans and voters took to the airwaves to voice their disapproval of the league and calls for a deal with the union have grown louder throughout the day.  The electorate was moving towards the union position, and Romney had to act.

Mitt Romney did not always support the union in its battle against the NFL.  In May of this year, he was secretly recorded at a large fundraiser of NFL owners saying:

"There are 47 percent of the referees who with vote for the union no matter what. All right, there are 47 percent who are with the union, but at the same time who are dependent upon the NFL, who believe that they are victims, who believe the NFL has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you-name-it -- that that's an entitlement. And the NFL should give it to them. And they will vote for the union no matter what. ... These are people who pay no income tax. ... [M]y job is not to worry about those people. I'll never convince them they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives."

Romney has pushed back against suggestions that he has changed positions at all.

“My position hasn’t changed.  I have fought against having activist judges on the bench and activist referees on the field of play.  Neither judges nor NFL referees should be writing their own laws and rules as they go.  Our citizens deserve justice and our NFL superstars deserve justice.”

“Justice should be blind, not our game day referees.”

Paul Ryan, a loyal cheesehead and Vice Presidential nominee, promised Wisconsin voters that the Green Bay Packers’ Monday Night loss would be repealed on Day One of a Romney administration.  Obama campaign officials called Ryan’s remarks “shameless pandering in the wake of an unspeakable tragedy.” 

President Obama has consistently been a strong supporter of the referee’s union, but he has found himself having to backpedal recently as well.  The President supported the union but also supported many of the additional regulations in the game designed to protect players.  As the officiating of the game has unraveled, it has become clear to many, including Obama, that there can be too much regulation. 

“The complex regulatory environment signed into law by the league with the union’s consent makes success at this level almost impossible.  If the recent use of replacement refs has taught us anything, it’s that even the experts cannot understand the web of regulations they are empowered to enforce.  The task of supervising on field compliance in the NFL is unwieldy.  It is time to deregulate and let them play.”

The talks between the NFL and the referees union are stalled with no meetings planned until the NFL thinks it might be losing money.  Veteran referee, Ed Hochuli, was vacationing at his Arctic Fortress of Solitude, and could not be reached for comment at press time.     

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