No offense to fans, but there are certain jobs you shouldn’t have. One of them is as a sports journalist, covering your favorite team. Another is as a referee, making calls for and against any team.
Still, it happens.
Brian Stropolo is the now infamous replacement official for the NFL who was pulled at the last minute from the Carolina-New Orleans game on Sunday because a report came out that Stropolo is a Saints fan. He listed himself as such on Facebook, where pictures were posted of him in Saints gear while tailgating at an Aug. 25 preseason game.
That’s a problem, on a lot of levels.
First, how did Stropolo make it through the NFL’s screening process when the league replaced its regular officials, who are locked out, with a bunch of small-college refs who likely never figured they’d find themselves in the position to be calling games on Sunday? That’s an embarrassment to the league, which already should be red-cheeked enough over the subpar performances being put in by the replacements.
The labor stalemate between the NFL and the referees, and the effect it is having on games, is going just the way the regular officials — and anyone with half a brain — figured it would. Take sides all you want in that negotiation, but the league should have seen this coming. It was willing to trot out the replacements and then see the thing crash and burn as a means of standing firm in a negotiation it cannot win. The health and integrity of the game is at stake, as is, in some cases, the health of its players.
Still, the NFL thought it could round up over the summer a ragtag collection of officials — Conan O’Brien tweeted over the weekend that the league hired the refs away from Foot Locker — who had never refereed at this level and expect them to thoroughly absorb not just the basics, but all the nuances of the NFL game in a couple of months.
That’s like taking the owner of a Toyota Camry and putting him behind the wheel of a multimillion-dollar Formula 1 racecar and having him take the track at Monaco, expecting him to finish in good form, with the car intact.
Uh-oh, better get Maaco.
And so many calls and so much confusion on the field Sunday proved that out. There were bad judgment calls, but there were also misinterpretations of basic rules. There were times when clocks ran when they shouldn’t have run, when players were getting hit after whistles were blown and when officials hesitated to flag the excess physicality.
Players are testing the replacements the way high school students test overwhelmed substitute teachers — with similar results: moments of chaos.
It’s working out all sweet for the regular refs, who are sitting back and waiting for the phone to ring. New appreciation is being expressed for a group of professionals who rarely garner appreciation for anything they do.
"Those [regular refs] have been doing it for a long time and they put a lot of time and hard work into going out there and doing this and seeing those games," Baltimore Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco said on Sunday. "It’s not easy to be down there and be officiating games that are going full speed at this level, so that’s my opinion on it. It’s tough to just get thrown right in there and be perfect."
Perfection isn’t even part of the equation — neither is adequate.
The regs blow calls, too. It’s a part of being human. Nobody has flawless judgment. Nobody has lasers for eyes. But they clearly are better than what the NFL is settling for now, which is exactly what the referees association was counting on.
Maybe the union has been unreasonable, maybe not. That’s not anyone’s problem but the NFL’s. But using fill-in refs is a charade that won’t work. All it does is make a rich league look foolish and call the game itself into question. It makes you kind of feel for the replacements, some of whom are competent, but not enough to justify their collective presence.
And now, the league is booking Saints fans to officiate Saints games. That’s even worse than having Saints fans cover the Saints for the New Orleans paper. Wait, what? Yeah, unfortunately, that happens, too, and not just in the Crescent City. Anyone who roots for the home team shouldn’t be covering the home team.
Fans should be fans. Reporters should be reporters. Camry drivers should be Camry drivers. Formula 1 racers should be Formula 1 racers. Small-college officials should be small-college officials. NFL referees should be NFL referees.
Simple as that.
GORDON MONSON hosts "The Big Show" weekdays from 3-7 p.m. on 1280 and 960 AM The Zone and 97.5 FM. Twitter: @GordonMonson.
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