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School starting. Cooler temperatures. Falling leaves. Football. Lock-out?
Yes, labor disputes. They’re becoming the new hallmark of fall. For the second year in a row, benefit packages are as important as blitz packages. With Week 1 in the books, the NFL Referees Association and the owners are no closer to a deal, and the NFL is planning to keep their replacement refs on the schedule at least for the first five weeks. Referees are part-time employees of the NFL and are allowed to have “regular” jobs. For example, the easy-to-mistake-for-a-player Ed Hochuli is a trial attorney in Phoenix. (Mr. Hochuli, if you’re reading this, I’ll be happy to send a resume.) Still, the NFL provides a salary and retirement package, the details of which seem to be the focus of the dispute.
Week 1 clearly happened, thanks to replacement refs. There have been some concerns expressed by fans, commentators, and players (as well as the NFLRA, for obvious reasons) that the replacement refs won’t know what they’re doing. The idea that referees who officiated college games (though very few from the FBS conferences) and the Lingerie Football League are now in charge of keeping professional football games has some people up in arms. After all, this is the NFL, not a city park rec league. Several spectacularly bad calls in pre-season games only furthered the ire. However, we can surmise that the officiating work of Week 1 was apparently acceptable, since the outrage over blown calls hasn’t circulated social media.
One positive about the lock-out: the first female NFL referee: Shannon Eastin. She’s spent 16 years as a football referee in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference and owns a business that trains referees. She made her debut in a pre-season game and did a good enough job that no one has commented on it. While it isn’t ideal that the first female referee in the NFL is also a picket-line crosser, sometimes major leaps forward are made out of necessity.
Ultimately, labor disputes are like any contract negotiation. Both sides need to buttress their position of power as much as possible to get leverage over the other. Up to and throughout the pre-season, the NFLRA could argue that they, and not the replacement referees, were the ones who had mastered the nuances of the game. Refereeing problems will abound, the NFLRA said, without the veteran refs in charge. However, the relatively successful Week 1 has undermined the union’s position. The lockout is the owners’ way of saying “We don’t need you, union,” and the evidence seems to bear that out. The NFLRA now finds themselves in the position of being potentially locked out for good. And the only thing the fans might miss is Ed Hochuli’s buff physique.
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