Sports Law • Risk Management

The Danger of NFL Replacement Referees

The NFL insists that it does what is in the best interest of the game, the players, and the fans at all times. Yet through the first three weeks of the NFL season, replacement referees from the high school level and lower branches of college football, have been used because of the lockout of the regular officials. After three weeks of replacement referees, everyone seems to have something to say about the NFL and its replacement referees. Dan Shaughnessy of the Boston Globe wrote:

There seems to be a dustup after every whistle. In September of 2012, the NFL players are like high school students taking advantage of substitute teachers. They are pushing the limits. They are pushing one another. Sometimes they even shove the officials.

The NFL Players Association even sent a letter to the owners that said:

Your decision to lock out officials with more than 1,500 years of collective NFL experience has led to a deterioration of order, safety, and integrity. It is lost on us how you allow a Commissioner to cavalierly issue suspensions and fines in the name of player health and safety, yet permit the wholesale removal of officials that you trained and entrusted to maintain that very health and safety.

Using replacement referees at such a high level of play can absolutely jeopardize the safety of the players. Replacement referees have been accused of missing many offensive and defensive pass interference calls which has made play much more physical because players are pushing the limits of the rule book. Other calls, even more vital to player safety, have also come into question with the replacement referees such as late hits, illegal hits or roughing the passer. In a week 3 game, Raiders receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey was knocked out from a vicious and clearly illegal helmet-to-helmet hit that the replacement referees missed. In a sport with such a huge potential for injury, playing the game the right way and by the rules is so vital to player safety. This is clearly not being done with the replacement officials, and the NFL needs to get the regular officials back if they want to do what is in the best interest of the game, the players, and the fans.