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NFL Referee Lockout: Time For The Players To Step Up

The NFL replacement officials remain awful, as they are making numerous mistakes that go beyond things we have seen in the past with regular officials. The latest example saw our own Jim Harbaugh pull a fast one on the officials.

In case you missed it, Toby Gerhart fumbled the ball on a second down run. At the end of the rush the 49ers were not aware of the fumble and had called a timeout to stop the clock. Shortly after calling the timeout, the 49ers noticed that Gerhart had in fact fumbled the ball. Jim Harbaugh wanted to challenge the down by contact ruling, but technically was unable to challenge, having just used his last timeout. The link above features a good breakdown of the situation.

The 49ers did not deserve to win yesterday's game, but that does not mean we have to ignore the continued piss-poor officiating that is ruling the day. Although we did not see a single game-deciding screw-up, the accumulation of nonsensical calls is driving me crazy. Of course, as Steve Young put it, for now the NFL doesn't really care.

In case anybody missed Young's comments, his basic point was that as long as people continue to watch football, the NFL has little incentive to accept any of the union's terms. If people are going to continue to watch, the NFL does not really care and will continue to not care.

Since it seems unlikely that ratings will decrease anytime soon, there is another way the NFL could be forced to deal with this situation. The current CBA includes a no-strike clause. Although players cannot strike, they do have another option. If the players feel the league is endangering workplace safety, they have the option of not working. They cannot strike in the traditional sense of the word, but they can refuse to work because of safety concerns.

I bring this up because it is entirely possible the NFLPA is building towards such an action. Late last week, the NFLPA sent a letter to the league decrying the negative impact the lockout was having on the game:

We believe there is substantial evidence that you have failed in your obligation to provide as safe a working environment as possible.

Your decision to lock out officials with more than 1,500 years of collective NFL experience has led to a deterioration of order, safety and integrity. This affirmative decision has not only resulted in poor calls, missed calls and bad game management, but the combination of those deficiencies will only continue to jeopardize player health and safety and the integrity of the game that has taken decades to build.

Two months ago, DeMaurice Smith came down to the SB Nation offices for an interview, and we asked him about a potential walkout:

Amy K. Nelson: Bottom line, will the players take the field if there are replacement refs?

DeMaurice Smith: Work place safety is always something that we can consider and it is always something that we can choose to take action about.

If the players did elect to take action over workplace safety, the two results are fairly straight forward: 1) the NFL comes to terms with the refs and/or 2) litigation results between the NFL and the NFLPA.

I don't know if the players will actually take this kind of step, but it strikes me as the last real card to be played in this situation. Player and coach complaints seem to be increasing, but for now it is just talk. The league could very well be prepared to wade through a player walkout, but that would raise the level of this situation quickly.

This is a serious situation, but until the players actually threaten to walk out, the NFL would seem prepared to sit this out until the refs give in. The only other situation where I could see the NFL caving might be if there is a huge ref mistake in the playoffs. Otherwise, as Steve Young said, the NFL does not care.