Shocked by the refs? Where've you been the last 30 years?


To every football fan out there who watched in shock and the opposite of awe Monday night as replacement refs stole a game from the Green Bay Packers even after the Seattle Seahawks' Golden Tate failed to steal the football in the end zone, who set Twitter on fire after the blown call and vowed to boycott both NFL Commission Roger Goodell and his local bookie, who groans as a never-ending pasta bowl of "booth reviews" drags afternoon games into prime time and who wants their state lawmaker or President Obama or some higher power to ban scab officials, for the sake of the Republic, I ask only one thing:

Um, where the hell have you been for the last 31 years or so?

Outsourcing an important skilled job to inexperienced workers willing to do it for lower pay? Check. Billionaire CEOs determined to break a union over about as many dollars as are buried in the couch of their 50-yard-line luxury suite? Check. Trying to take away employees' pension plan and require them to gamble their future on Wall Street? Check. Putting an inferior, schlocky product on the market and not going broke by underestimating the suckerhood of the American people to continue buying their $117 tickets, watching their cable TV network and buying their sponsors' lite beer?


Let's do an official review. First they (by "they" I mean Ronald Reagan) came for the air traffic controllers, way back in 1981, and you didn't speak out because either you didn't fly or you just figured you'd knock back an extra martini at the airport bar. Then they came for the assembly line worker, and you didn't speak out because you were too busy watching the falling prices at Wal-Mart. Then they came for the public employees in Wisconsin, and you didn't speak out because (insert "cheesehead" joke here.) Then they came for the teachers in Chicago and you didn't speak out because you were waiting in vain to be clued in by some politician who wasn't in the back pocket of the hedge funds.

Then they came for the NFL refs -- and you went bat-guano crazy. You talked consumer boycott. You called your congressman and begged him to do something. You pleaded with Big Government to do the right thing, to force the greedy pro football owners to take the regular refs back, to do the right thing by these noble working men who just want a fair shake.

It's a little late, guys.

Let's be honest, when the NFL owners decided to lock out the refs rather than bargain in good faith back in June, you probably weren't paying close attention, were you? That's OK -- in 2012, a gaggle of rich guys trying to crush a small labor union is the ultimate dog-bites-man story, even in the high profile world of pro football. At this point in the history of American capitalism, it reminds me of a story that a prize-winning investigative reporter back on Long Island used to tell me about the mobsters he'd covered, that they were the kind of guys who drove around with massive rolls of hundred-dollar bills and threw wooden slugs into the tollbooths on the Triborough Bridge.

Why? Because they could.

And so why won't the NFL negotiate with the referees' union over its pay demand that amounts to roughly $100,000 a team per year, or roughly the price for a gimp-kneed backup linebacker? Why is it trying to make the refs quit their other jobs and work full-time, without paying a full-time salary, and trying to convert the union's pension plan into a 401K?  

It's not because the $9-billion-a-year NFL needs the piddling amount of extra cash. It's because they can.

It reminds me of the time in the 1980s that an airline company was bought by investors including a high-flying (no pun intended) new venture capital firm. A couple of the pilots with concerns about airline safety sought to form a union -- an idea which management greeted, according to a court's finding, with a coercive effort that included telling the pilots it might freeze salaries, bonuses and benefits, and then two of the union organizers were flat-out fired. The company was called Key Airlines, the venture capital came from Bain Capital, whose founder Willard Mitt Romney was also a Key director. Now Romney wants to be president of all of us.

Is this a great country or what?

But now one terrible blown call on Monday Night Football, and everyone is suddenly Norma Rae or something? You say you want to boycott the NFL? That's great. That worked (briefly) for Caesar Chavez and the grape pickers of his United Farm Workers, but it took a lot of given Sundays. The team owners who pal around with Mitt Romney are counting on your apathy, just like they did down at the factory and at the airport.

If you want to fix football, you're probably going to have to fix America. And that, my friend, is a full-contact bloodsport.