Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Why I Love the NFL's Replacement Refs

I have complained about refereeing here before. Well, I’ve complained about fans tendency to view referees as “part of the game” thereby naturalizing their authority and removing it from the realm of critical scrutiny. Whenever this happens, the masses become docile and arbitrary authority becomes legitimated.

I should say that there is a lot of this going on (there are many players/fans/analysts who have said something like “I don’t mind replacement refs if they don’t affect the game” as though authority figures should be thought of as neutral cogs in the wheel of a benevolent game) but I’ve tread that ground before (every time I say “before” I’ll link to my blog complaining about naturalization of authority in the NBA finals). Today, though, I’ll look at the other side of the coin, so to speak.

Whenever the masses challenge authority, an angel gets its wings.

The main reason I love the NFL replacement refs is that every time I turn on sportscenter, or sign in to twitter/facebook after an NFL weekend I see my friends, analysts, players, and coaches challenging authority and it makes me happy.

There are too many articles to cite, but go to the sports section of any major news website (or, for that matter, search for “roger goodell” or “referees” on twitter) and you’ll find a barrage of articles/tweets condemning the replacement officials in the NFL, declaring them inept, or telling the NFL bureaucracy to get the “real officials” back. One of my favorites was Steve Young’s response that the system (video) – the owners – the people making the money – do.not.care.about.fans.or.players.just.money. The apparatus of the game is set up so that we don't notice.

If we watch the game, they make lots of money. If the refs are bad, we watch. They make lots of money. If the refs are good, we watch. They make lots of money. I don’t like this arrangement. I’ve said that sports are a great distraction from all the money changing hands before (see, I said “before” again…shameless self promotion). The difference this go-round is that the conflict between the “real” referees and the owners has reinforced this skepticism towards the motives of owners and those making real money (of course I don’t mean the players).

Professional sports is not about the players. Professional sports is not about the fans. Professional sports is about money. When the “real” referees do their job they distract us from this fact by letting us get "lost in the game." When the system runs well, everything fits – everything’s natural, and nobody questions it.

So while the calls to get the “real” refs back in order to “restore the integrity of the game” make me want to vomit, I thoroughly enjoy this skeptical turn in the conversation. I, for one, am enjoying the NFL season more than ever as “the joy of the game” isn’t being allowed to distract the masses from the apparatus of the state. I mean game.

Thanks for reading.