An Ode to NFL Referees

By Cari Buchwald

They’re baaack! NFL fans had a weight lifted off their shoulders last week when the NFL referee lockout finally came to a close. After the frustrating first three weeks of the season filled with poor calls, penalties and fines, there are probably very few fans sad to see the replacement refs walk off of the field.

These replacement referees are in a league of their own, with the majority having previously worked in lower-division college ranks and minor professional organizations; clearly using referees who had little experience at the professional level was a recipe for disaster. While this was not the first referee lockout to take place, this was the first time the NFL had multiple games in a row consisting of terrible calls, unnecessary flags and large fines for team coaches. The final straw was drawn during “Monday Night Football” when the Seahawks beat the Packers 14-12 in the last second with the officials making two different calls before deeming the play a touchdown. The next day, the NFL noted that the touchdown should have been called for an offensive pass interference, which created further outrage for football fans across the nation.

Needless to say, the league worked out a deal with the referees before week four of the season began. The tentative eight-year deal, the longest referee deal in league history, will increase the referees’ salaries from $149,000 a year in 2011 to $173,000 a year in 2013 and a final raise to $205,000 in 2019. NFL referees will receive retirement benefits and new officials will be hired in 2013 to work on a full-time basis year-round, including on the field. The NFL will also have the option to retain new officials for training and development purposes and may assign those officials to work NFL games. For the detailed key terms of agreement, click here.

We all know that it’s tough to be referees for games watched by millions of die-hard fans. No one wants to be the guy that is constantly criticized for doing his job and instantly hated not only by the fans but also by the players, coaches and team managers, for making a questionable call. Even off the field, the refs’ decisions could lose some people thousands of dollars in bets. They have to watch every pass, block and catch while knowing hundreds of hand signals and types of penalties by heart. No wonder these guys want improved salaries and benefits for their jobs; there needs to be some kind of incentive for willingly placing yourself as the most hated person on the football field.

Week four of the season opened last Thursday with the Ravens and the Browns playing in Baltimore. For the first time in NFL history, the officials received a standing ovation when they walked onto the field, a defining moment for NFL referees (click here to watch their entrance). After seasons and seasons of criticism, negative comments and hate, the referees can stand proudly knowing that they have finally gained the respect and attention they deserve.

What this lockout has shown us is the importance of having official, experienced referees in the NFL. Sure, we all get upset with the calls that do not favor our teams, but we should be grateful that there are people who take on the responsibility to fulfill a less-than-desirable role in football. For now, we can all feel a sense of relief knowing that when we watch NFL games, we will be able to focus on the game itself rather than worrying about the rookie refs. Perhaps there will be less negativity directed towards the refs from now on and fans, players and coaches can all appreciate refs who actually know what they are doing.

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