Why the NFL Referees’ Bargaining Victory Means So Much More Than Better Football

Hey, remember this:

So does everyone that has been watching football this season.

Following disagreements over wages and contracts for the NFL referees between the NFL and the refs, the referees walked out en mass to bargain for better wages and benefits. Some have argued that the refs get paid pretty good money already, so why would they need better wages and such? To put it in perspective, their decisions are often more important than any decision a coach or team manager can make. Example.

The head of the NFL thought that he was making a pretty good move by bringing in a bunch of replacement refs until the regular refs would accept their fate or lose their jobs. Perhaps he was thinking of Reagan’s bold moves when federal air traffic controllers across the nation walked out. Circumstances were very different however, where Reagan’s moves resulted in slower air traffic for a time and misery for 11,000 people, the NFL’s decision to put in replacement refs resulted in numerous blown calls and the misery of football fans everywhere.

Just a few days ago the NFL budged and gave the refs an offer that they found acceptable. The replacement refs, instead of helping the NFL’s side, only proved to everyone that the job is tough and that no one can really replace the professional refs. On Thursday the regular refs returned to the game, and in Baltimore, they got a standing ovation.

Why does this matter outside of the NFL?

It matters because for the first time in a long time, a union has been viewed as heroic in the face of corporate profits. The NFL wants to make money, and they knew that they could make more money by paying their refs less. As with every private industry, the people on top will give the people below them less than they could in the interest of growth, and personal profit. In America we have a strange tendency to side with the people on top. We accept the misconception that they are in their position because they worked harder than everyone else and are more deserving of fortune than everyone else.

With the victory for the refs, maybe we can see this trend slip away. We witnessed a group of people that have seemingly little personal power or personal wealth and they came together to become a force as powerful as the rest of the NFL. They asserted that they deserved better treatment and as much as the people on top tried to deny it, we could all see that it was true.

Through trial and adversity the refs hung on with the tenacity that we would often applaud on the football field. When the NFL tried to strong-arm them, we decried it, and when the NFL finally broke down and gave them a good deal, we stood up and cheered.

What we should not forget is that these sorts of actions by the NFL are not exclusive to the NFL. In every industry, from mining to manufacturing to housekeeping, the laborers will be taken advantage of unless they stand up for their rights. The cause of the NFL referees happen to be the cause of all the working people. We shouldn’t forget this example.


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