Sports writers are often unfairly judged as “less than” journalists. In the age of shock jock sports radio hosts and their loud, sometimes asinine opinions, we rarely give credit to those who do the profession proud. But there is a labor situation in sports that we, as a collective sports nation, are all currently ignoring. NFL referees are being locked out by management and games are being officiated by replacements. Yet, nobody covering the story is calling them what they are: scabs.
Enter ESPN’s Jeff MacGregor who recently did just this with a brilliantly written piece titled, “NFL: Stickin’ “It” To The Union.” He calls out the austerity of the lockout and notes that by using scab referees, the league is showing complete disregard for both player safety and the middle class.
MacGregor relates the referee lockout to the growing anti-labor movement sweeping the nation:
Corporate thugs everywhere are trying to bust what’s left of the unions, and lockouts are now their favored tactic. From Con Ed to Entergy to American Crystal Sugar, and from the NHL to the NBA to the NFL, ownership’s message is clear: Too much for us is never enough. Too much for you is socialism.
But where’s the pushback? Where’s the solidarity? When did we stop calling replacement workers scabs? NFL players scoffed at the league and the NFL’s cooked books just last year when asked to take their own pay cut but are nowhere to be found in support of the officials. And where, Mr. and Mrs. America, are you? Maybe we could get your attention if commissioner Goodell threatened to outsource the work to Guangzhou or Matamoros or Bangalore.
MacGregor goes further in suggesting the hypocrisy of union members and the middle class not joining in solidarity with the locked out referees as they do in other lockout situations. He points out that much of the middle class enjoys Sunday football but few are willing to accept that much of the activity is brought to them courtesy of union work. He also argues that NFL referees are a perfect example of how the middle class is being squeezed out without putting up much of a fight.
You know that your leisure to watch an NFL game on Sunday was argued and bargained and fought for by unions, right? That the wages you spent on that game-day flatscreen were argued and bargained and fought for by unions, right? That your standing as a member of the American middle class was argued and bargained and fought for by 200 years of collective effort and sacrifice and blood on the part of folks just like you, right?
Or maybe you don’t. Maybe we’ve lost the habit of looking out for each other. Of empathy. Fellow feeling. Of picturing ourselves in another guy’s shoes. When did we decide it made sense to give up on each other?
Next kickoff, maybe think of it this way: That referee, that back judge, that stranger down there on the field running as hard as he can to keep up with the millionaires but falling farther behind with every step? Maybe that’s us.
Kudos to Jeff MacGregor for showing that sports writers can still make poignant arguments in an age of hot air and for giving a voice to the locked out referees who are being forgotten.