Any union that has ever endured a work stoppage can only dream of the vindication the National Football League referees have enjoyed over the first three weeks of the season. Bad calls, missed calls, and difficulty controlling the action on the field have tainted many games, including Sunday night’s Patriots loss to the Baltimore Ravens. The Pats, who lost by one point, can honestly point to numerous decisions by the replacement refs that altered the outcome; if the Ravens had lost, they could have done the same. Clearly, NFL owners need to work harder to solve the labor impasse and get the regular refs back on the field.
None of that excuses Patriots Coach Bill Belichick’s decision to grab a replacement ref as he was running off the field. It wasn’t a very threatening grab; Belichick wanted the refs to review Baltimore’s oh-so-close winning field goal, and couldn’t get their attention. Still, all coaches know they can’t touch the referees. After a disputed loss in which bad calls were numerous, such an act is especially objectionable. The NFL should fine Belichick enough to make him take notice, but any further punishment, such as a suspension, would be excessive.
Replacement refs are doing their jobs under nearly impossible conditions. They deserve respect, even in trying circumstances. Anger should be directed at those who put them there.