(Photo credit: Noah K. Murray/THE STAR-LEDGER via US Presswire)
Like all pro football fans, I’m happy the NFL is bringing its real referees back for Week 4 and sending the unqualified scab replacements back home. But while we’re doing postmortems, let’s take a look at the sports media’s role in this fiasco.
It’s been funny to read and watch some of the over-the-top coverage. It reminded of the press hysterics over Tiger Woods’ sex scandals. Much of the scathing coverage was legitimate. The other part? Hey, call it payback time for a frustrated media against Commissioner Roger Goodell and the Big, Bad NFL.
The NFL’s been No. 1 for so long it was bound to cause resentment. Yes, the league is way more PR-savvy than the icy Woods and his controlling handlers. But some of same forces were at work in press coverage of the replacements controversy as in Woods’ fall from grace.
When the chips were down, Woods paid the price big-time for treating the media with disdain for years. Similarly, an NFL media mob that’s been forced to dance to the league’s tune for years switched into full pitchfork mode when they smelled blood in the water.
And why not? Bashing scab replacements was easy. They were a perfect tool for a frustrated media to take the USA’s most powerful sports league down a few notches. They allowed analysts at the league’s network TV partners — ESPN, CBS, FOX, NBC and NFL Network — to show their independence by teeing off to a fare-thee-well.
Yes, the NFL’s to blame for putting inexperienced replacements on the field. Yes, the call in the Seattle Seahawks’ disputed 14-12 victory over the Green Bay Packers Monday was a joke. Yes, the league further insulted our intelligence by arguing the refs got the call right.
But some of the media coverage has been a bit over-dramatic, no? To me, it reflected the media’s own sense of impotence toward a league they helped turn into the biggest thing in U.S. pro sports.
For example, Joe Posnanski of USA TODAY SPORTS’ new Sports on Earth blog accused the NFL of “in-your-face fraud” Monday night.
Wow. That’s heavy stuff. Was Posnanski implying the replacement refs fixed the game to win a bet? That the ref who signaled touchdown over Golden Tate was on the take? Hey, if there was a crooked Tim Donaghy-type ref fixing games, that’s the real story, not a blown call.
Let’s be real Joe. Who are you to pass moral judgement on anybody these days? You were in the perfect position to inform the world of what Joe Paterno knew, and when he knew it, about Jerry Sandusky’s sexual abuse of young boys at Penn State. Instead, you tried to largely whitewash your hero in Paterno.
Peter King of Sports Illustrated is the dean of NFL reporters. But he told Michael Wilbon and Bob Ryan on ESPN’s Pardon the Interruption Wednesday some people in Green Bay won’t “forgive” Goodell for years for Monday night’s loss. Really? If Aaron Rodgers takes the Packers to the playoffs, the debacle in Seattle will be forgotten, except as a blooper for NFL Films’ and SportsCenter’s gag reels.
Joel Sherman of the New York Post, whose columns I usually like, blamed football fans and American society at large for Monday night’s bad call. That’s a stretch. But Sherman went there:
Shame on those truly responsible for the debacle in the end zone in Seattle late Monday night.
That would be us. NFL fans.
After all, the league is just a crack dealer and there is not a market for something so fundamentally wrong without buyers. That’s us.
Here’s the bottom line. The NFL made the same mistake as Woods. You can’t say one thing and be another.
Woods presented himself as a family man with super-human discipline. In reality, he carried on multiple extramarital affairs and was abandoned in his personal life.
Likewise, Goodell’s NFL preached the virtues of player safety and protecting the integrity of the “shield.”
In reality, the $10 billion league risked the safety of its players by putting them on the field with inexperienced refs. The NFL gambled with the integrity of sports’ most valuable brand to win a labor dispute over a few million bucks. And to show these part-time refs that nobody wins a fight with the NFL.
Welcome to sports business in the 21st century.