National Football League
Goodell to blame for referee debacle
National Football League

Goodell to blame for referee debacle

Published Sep. 24, 2012 1:00 a.m. ET

This, Roger Goodell, is what you’ve wrought: The low point of the NFL. A great big heaping pile of dog doo staining the shield. A multibillion-dollar game that has turned from national obsession to total mockery in a few short weeks.

Spurred by incompetent officials and a complicit commissioner, the league’s ongoing horror show with its replacement referees hit its nadir Monday night. That’s when the Seattle Seahawks were awarded a 14-12 win over the Green Bay Packers on one of the worst acts of officiating in the history of the game — and when, thanks to Goodell’s ongoing insouciance, America lost its mind.

It started when Seahawks receiver Golden Tate was given a touchdown on the final play of the game, a desperation Hail Mary that Packers safety M.D Jennings clearly caught with his body. Tate got his arm around the ball — after shoving cornerback Sam Shields to the ground — and one official signaled touchdown. And then a video review upheld the absurdity.

What an absolute travesty. What a joke. What a nightmare.

Former NFL coach Jon Gruden, calling the game on television and watching one official indicate the stoppage of play while another signaled touchdown, called it “tragic” and “comical.”

Packers guard TJ Lang tweeted shortly afterward “Got f******ed by the refs.. Embarrassing. Thanks nfl.” Then he tweeted, “F*** it NFL.. Fine me and use the money to pay the regular refs.” And, in case his message was lost on anyone, he threw down this one, too: “Any player/coach in Seattle that really thinks they won that game has zero integrity as a man and should be embarrassed.”

Aaron Rodgers was a little more succinct: “It was awful.”

Everyone had an opinion. Twitter exploded with fans and players bursting with indignation, a social media microcosm for a country that knows it’s getting hosed when it sees it. This wasn’t the NFL we saw Monday, this was some half-baked parody, a game featuring our best athletes paired with some of our least capable minds.

The outrage grew and spread because Gruden, Lang, Rodgers and those like them were right. This is awful, this is tragic, this is whatever swear words you can think of.

This is a farce. It’s an insulting example of the power of incompetence by a group of men (the officials) so mismatched that the Lingerie Football League announced shortly after the game they had fired some of them earlier in the year for incompetence. This is an act of self-sabotage by the NFL so blatant and infuriating that Lang’s tweets, while perhaps getting him fined, also tapped so surely into the zeitgeist that 58,000 people had retweeted his first one within two hours.

Allow me to expand on his thoughts, with a little cleaner language: Roger Goodell, get this fixed. Now.

The replacement refs are an extension of a problem, but they’re not to blame. They’re in over their heads. If someone allowed me to cross a picket line and suit up in place of Aaron Rodgers during a players strike, I’d be just as sure to fail, embarrass the game and myself and set fans and football players to seething. But it wouldn’t entirely be my fault.

It’s not the incompetent officials’ fault they can’t do the job. It’s Goodell’s fault he gave them the job in the first place.

Since taking over at the helm of the NFL, Goodell has forged an image for himself as a my-way-or-the-highway strongman. His rules. His punishments, meted out by him. His prerogative. His league.

So this is his stinking pile of garbage. This is his failure.

Forget whether the actual officials are asking for too much or too little in their dispute with the league. It was Goodell’s job to see this coming, to negotiate on the one hand and protect the game on the other. It was Goodell’s job to make Monday nights in the fall — as they have been for years, well before his reign — a testament to America’s love affair with football.

That was why the NFL printed money, why it was the dominant sport in this country, why its owners and players and league-office suits got filthy rich. Because the game was great, and those in charge of it understood that parity, talent and a well-executed machine made everyone very rich.

Now 'Monday Night Football' is the latest running rebuke of Goodell’s leadership, a fact brought to you by replacement refs so awful the Lingerie League won’t have them. NFL players can’t keep their rage to themselves and fans are seeing for the first time in a generation a level of play that does not live up to the game’s history.

The replacement referees have to go, yes, of course, no doubt. Just don’t forget who put them there — and who, having done so, should bear the full brunt of the blame.


You can follow Bill Reiter on Twitter or email him at


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