Rough times for NFL refs

I’ve been watching football on Sunday afternoons and Monday nights since I was about ten years old. Originally, I just wanted an excuse to eat hot dogs in the living room with my dad, and not get off the couch for hours at a stretch; these days however, I really do enjoy getting wrapped up in the drama and excitement of my favorite teams’ weekly games. Of course, since I cheer for the Minnesota Vikings, Denver Broncos, and Washington Redskins, this is not always the most satisfying or rewarding pursuit, but team loyalty can and should trump all (and for what it’s worth, none of the three have disgraced themselves yet.  In fact, the Vikings are currently leading their division, so I am a fairly happy camper, though I do always worry that new Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning is going to break, on account of his age and history of serious injuries. But enough about me).

NFL logo. Image from Sports Media Masters.

Since I do have something of a vested interest in this particularly colorful piece of the tapestry that is American sports, I couldn’t help but notice the rage over the third-week matchup between the Green Bay Packers (who, as a Vikings fan in relatively good standing, I cannot like) and the Seattle Seahawks.

For the uninitiated, uneducated, or otherwise unaware, the story essentially goes like this: with only eight seconds left in the game, Green Bay was leading Seattle 12-7. The Seattle quarterback threw the football into the end zone, and several players from both teams made a grab for it. One of Seattle’s wide receivers shoved a Green Bay cornerback before the ball landed, which is technically an interference penalty and should have ended the game right then and there. The officials didn’t call this, however, and both a Green Bay safety and the same Seattle wide receiver caught the ball in the end zone. This is, of course, a touchdown, but for which team? After some instant-replay review and a great deal of technical wrangling that’s hard to understand and even harder to explain, officials awarded the touchdown, and the win, to the Seahawks.

Unsurprisingly, controversy and complaints followed.  Everyone from confused sports reporters to disappointed gamblers to (of course) extremely irate Packers fans has managed to express their opinion on the now-infamous outcome of the game and the mistakes of that night’s referees.

Refs making the controversial call. Image from PolicyMic

What interests me, however, is not so much the call itself but the people behind it. The officials who were involved in the Packers-Seahawks situation were not the normal referees. Those men spent the first three weeks of the season on lockout, due to disagreements with the National Football League over pension plans, salaries, and referee development (essentially, hiring trainees). Sunday night’s incident was only one of many blown or missed calls that stemmed directly from the replacements’ inferior training and experience.

Believe me when I say that I understand the frustration of losing a game to shoddy officiating. Despite the fury, however, is it really right to fault unprepared people thrust into the role of experts for failing to flawlessly interpret obscure and uncommon plays at the drop of a hat? Packers fans may not be happy, but with the lockout over, I’ll bet they’re more than ready for some football.