George Orwell’s National Football League: FBI Replacement Refs & What? . . . Now Running Backs Wearing Wires in the NFL Future?
LeSean McCoy, a football star running back for The Philadelphia Eagles, was laughing. He said a replacement referee had said to him after a play McCoy, come on. I need you for my fantasy [team]. Criminal intent? Probably not. A conflict of interest? Definitely.
And other stories have been emerging from players as well – of more uncharacteristic comments, of refs being intimidated and starting to stutter, of (we’ve all seen them so far this season) obviously blown calls, of games going on way too long. In short – and this is a common sentiment – the replacements are not professionals.
What’s not generally addressed, with the same attention a bad call gets, is the potentially darker side to an otherwise comic, bumbling scenario: the possibility of underpaid, inexperienced replacements gambling to supplement meager salaries. This thought has been recently expressed on ESPN’s “First Take” and mused elsewhere.
The NFL is seeing a disturbing trend. Referees who openly state they are fans of particular teams. (Remember the ref who had a New Orleans Saints fan page on Facebook? At least he was dismissed.) Or refs who fraternize with players. Or refs who officiate team scrimmages and then officiate the same teams in real, meaningful games, perhaps seeking autographs from their favorites off the field.
It’s reminiscent of informal criminal court house scenes in smaller jurisdictions. Prosecutors step out of chambers with a friendly slap on the back of the Honorable Presiding Golfing Buddy as they discuss the case disposition ex parte (outside the presence of defense counsel). Then, taking the bench, defense counsel now present, formality sets in as the impartial judge decides on the sides’ motion papers. And it happens all the time. Americans may tolerate this in the criminal justice system where only our constitutional rights are at stake. But on the football field? That’s where even the most tolerant of us will draw the line.
And fantasy football? It’s been said fantasy football is the white lie of gambling, like an NCAA pool – since the prize is announced before the contest, and it is considered as much a game of skill as of chance.
But talking to a player about fantasy football on the field of play? That‘s not good on any level. No matter that it could have been in jest (maybe the ref wanted the player to like him) – that’s not to the point.
An official is charged with making objective decisions on the field. If he specifically mentions a game of chance like fantasy football (which could possibly involve money and a game‘s outcome), is he above being influenced? (That’s a rhetorical question). Like a compromised juror he’s hung his objectivity in the locker room, right next to the soiled garments
Not only is the NFL stubborn in its refusal to renegotiate with its regular referees and seemingly determined to break a union, giving itself a black eye image-wise. Now it is potentially causing a deeper bruise. It is potentially providing unwitting, pliable targets and victims of illegal gambling and other criminal activity.
Since the average NFL game is interstate, maybe soon enough the FBI will not only be investigating, it may be “reffing” as well. Not to worry. FBI Agents are football fans too and one wonders about their own office pools. Meanwhile, the replacements are on the field, running around more like fans in uniforms than unbiased officials.