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NFL referees are setting a bad precedent by criticizing their replacements

by | Senior NFL Columnist
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Judge says the NFLRA doesn't need to point out that replacement officials aren't as good. (US Presswire)  
Judge says the NFLRA doesn't need to point out that replacement officials aren't as good. (US Presswire)  

More NFL games this weekend means more replacement officials, more missteps, more mistakes and, in all likelihood, more critical observations from the NFL Referees Association -- the union for locked-out officials -- where it details just where replacement officials went wrong.

I get most of that. What I don't get is what the NFLRA is doing. In fact, before we go farther, let me offer the group a suggestion.

Stop.

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You heard me. Put a lid on it. I don't need someone reminding me that NFL replacement officials aren't as qualified as the guys locked out. If they were, they wouldn't be replacement officials. But that's not my point. By offering public dissections of their performances you've made yourself targets for the same analyses when you return to work -- only this time it won't be people like me picking apart the mistakes.

It will be you.

Or it should be. Because you've just set a precedent. I mean, if you can critique guys on the job now, why can't you critique guys on the job when this lockout gets settled? You can, you should and you must.

"They've opened a Pandora's box they could live to regret," one NFL GM told me.

I'll second that. Officials like to be second-guessed about as much as Tom Brady likes to be sacked, and that's understandable. They have demanding jobs, and we don't notice them until they screw up ... only most of the time they don't. Most of the time they get calls right.

But when they don't ... hey, to err is human, right? It happens. You just want to make sure it all comes out OK, which is why we have instant replay. What you don't want are people in high places telling everyone how, where and when you goofed.

Officials know. So does the league office. That's why it holds weekly closed-door reviews, with officials' performances from the previous week dissected privately and suggestions for improvement offered to prevent similar gaffes in the future.

Only that didn't happen here. Here we have out-of-work officials chronicling every mistake replacements made in last weekend's Hall of Fame game. I know what they're trying to accomplish -- which is alert the public to the difference in the game -- but that isn't necessary. Leave it to writers, broadcasters, irate coaches or players to tell the public how much they're missed.

In other words, give it a rest, guys.

"I think it's petty," said Mike Pereira, the league's former head of officiating who now works for Fox Sports. "It accomplishes little other than raising more ill will against the regular officials.

"The problem is not with missing calls like intentional grounding or grabbing the facemask. That happens every Sunday with the regular officials. It's administrative, where you see they fail to walk off 15 yards or they review a play that wasn't reviewable or when they let a coach challenge a play that he can't challenge."

Pereira is right. A cease-and-desist order should be issued immediately, with the NFLRA refraining from further reviews because it serves no purpose other than to open the door to what it does not want -- namely, the same scrutiny of its own officials.

The NFLRA doesn't need that, and it doesn't want it. But it damned well deserves it if this keeps up.

Look, I understand officials aren't happy that the NFL employs replacement officials, but it happens. It used replacement players in 1987 and replacement officials in 2001, and in both cases the moves helped end stand-offs.

I also understand officials wanting the public to know how much better they are than their stand-ins. But the lockout isn't going to last forever, fellas, and at some point it will be your keisters on the line, and, just a hunch, I don't think you want your union notifying everyone what you missed.

So follow the advice you offer your kids: Stop telling on others who are struggling. I don't need the NFLRA to tell me replacement officials aren't as good as its officials. But, if this doesn't stop, I do need it to treat its officials to the same scrutiny this season that it submits their replacements now.

Officials are all about what's right and wrong, and they should know what's right here -- stopping this now and forever.

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