Thiel: Big 'MNF' stage comes with imposters

Thiel: Big 'MNF' stage comes with imposters

Credit: CenturyLink Field

Thiel: Big 'MNF' stage comes with imposters

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by Art Thiel

SportsPressNorthwest

Posted on September 21, 2012 at 9:30 AM

The NFL's showcase event, Monday Night Football, arrives in Seattle next week.

Too bad on the timing.

Feels like we're the father indulging the college-age daughter who brings the mouth-breathing, doper boyfriend who will stooge up the holiday meal. Can't really kick him out. Can't enjoy him, or the meal. The food is good, but you have to look up from your plate sometime.

That's what it feels like watching the NFL fail to show the game the same respect it demands from everyone else. The replacement-refs fiasco not only is spoiling games, it is one serious player injury from moving from embarrassment to scandal.

For a league that has gone to abrupt, unexpected lengths to protect players from heretofore acceptable damage, to turn over to the empire to untrained, intimidated and hero-worshipping semi-pro officials is an appalling stunner.

What if Peyton Manning were a victim of mayhem gone unchecked in that blister of a Monday Night game between Denver and Atlanta? Will it take Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson going down Monday night via a semi-criminal shot from a Packers defender to settle things?

An anonymous league official told USA Today Wednesday that stopping the chippiness that has led to near-brawls "will be a point of emphasis" this week to the replacements.  NOW it's a point of emphasis? I didn't know it was possible to grow, or purchase, a pair in a week.

The debacle of the inability to execute football officials'  highest priority, player safety, was foreshadowed in June. According to a transcript published by deadspin.com from a New York radio interview, longtime NFL referee Jerry Markbreit disclosed the details of the firing of him and eight other veteran referees because they refused to help train their potential replacements.

Not only did the NFL make a ridiculous ask, the league compounded its jeopardy by getting rid of the best and brightest. Here's the key quote from Markbreit when asked what happened:

"Well, it was on June 6," he said. "We had a conference call with the nine of us (group leaders) and the (NFL) office, the supervisors. They said, ‘We expect you to train the replacements. We want you to be in Atlanta on this date and then Dallas on this date.' And Ben Montgomery, who's the head of our training program, said, ‘Wait a minute. We are not going to train the replacements.'

"They said, ‘We need a voice vote. Nobody turns the NFL down.' We took a voice vote. Everybody said no. They said, ‘In that case, you guys are fired.' They asked for our computers back and shut off our website. … We haven't had any communication from them. We did not train them, nor would we. How could we help replace the fellas that we grew up with?"

NFL hubris drips like acid rain from Markbreit's account. Most telling was the phrase, "Nobody turns the NFL down." In five words, it captures the belief held by owners and commissioner Roger Goodell that the league views itself as infallible, untouchable and invincible. You know, like a Mexican drug cartel.

Independent of the relative pittance involved in the labor dispute within an industry that grosses $9.5 billion in annual revenues is the fact that NFL believes it can act with impunity because it is so loved/feared that it need never acquiesce. You know, like the Vatican.

Markbreit went on to state the obvious conclusion.

"My personal opinion is (Goodell) doesn't care about the officiating," he told ESPN New York radio. "He doesn't value the officiating. The officiating in the NFL is the integrity of the league. The fans expect the games to be officiated properly by the best guys available. … It's obvious to me that he just doesn't care."

On Monday night's broadcast, broadcaster and ex-quarterback Steve Young, now an employee of the NFL's largest house organist, ESPN, said the same thing: "The NFL doesn't care."

Examples poured in over the season's first two weeks of the NFL's reckless disregard for the supposed integrity of its game. The Seahawks-Cardinals game employed a field judge, Jeff Sardorus, a former Pac-12 official, who had refereed Seahawks practices from 2009-2011 in which he was paid by the club, not the league, a violation of the league's rules about conflict of interest, according to Albert Breer of NFL.com.

Another ref, Brian Stropolo, was booted when it was discovered he was a member of a New Orleans Saints fan club. His Facebook page showed him in Saints gear.

Another ref, unidentified, told Sean McCoy of the Philadelphia Eagles that he needed to pick up his game. Said McCoy on 94WIP in Philadelphia: "One of the refs was talking about his fantasy team, like, 'McCoy, come on, I need you for my fantasy;' Ahhh, what?"

Barring an abrupt settlement that is not anticipated, the NFL will continue with replacements through the weekend and Monday, when one of the most anticipated games in the last few years reaches the league's most remote outpost.

The big time doesn't often get here. Unfortunately for Seahawks fans as well as millions around the country, it won't be here then.

But if you're into blatant expressions of arrogance, recklessness and self-righteousness, welcome to the Clink for an American joke that would make Vladimir Putin smile.

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