Professional sports teams are one of society's stranger things. Millions of people spend hours of their valuable time obsessing over the outcome of games played by grown adults. We root for teams largely based on geography or a family member's influence and cheer for people who will never know our names. For the privilege, we collectively spend billions of dollars annually on the enterprise.
Yet despite acknowledging the ridiculousness of it, an enormous number of people follow some professional sport. I used to follow three, hockey, baseball and football*. However I started to lose interest in the NHL once it decided to hold what seem like semi-annual work stoppages. Baseball kind of lost me as the relentless schedule made it more and more difficult to keep up. But there was always football. Only 16 games in the regular season and usually confined to a single day of the week. Over time, the energy that I had left for sports became focused on the NFL.
Unlike the NHL and NBA, the NFL avoided lost games in it's most recent labor dispute. The league seems to get the fact that people pay to watch the games, not listen to bickering over millions. You take away the games and people will start to fill their time with other things. That's why I walked away from hockey a few years ago, and why that league is about to relegate itself back to sports purgatory, despite the growing interest of casual fans that has begun to develop again. You take away the action and you cut your nose off to spite your face.
But even though the NFL solved the labor dispute with players, they have let a more subtle labor issue fester. The referees for the games have been locked out this season and replacement refs have been brought in. Because the refs from the big university leagues have decided to support their NFL counterparts and not become fill ins, the NFL had to pull replacement refs from small college leagues and practically off the street. And it has showed.
There have been professional standard issues, player safety concerns and just general mayhem. There's even open discussion about whether anyone would notice the difference between the incompetence and blatant game fixing. We're to the point where the refs have a massive impact on the product. And the NFL is not solving the issue.
Why not? To paraphrase Steve Young's commentary on the situation last week, because we'll watch the games whether they are poorly officiated or not. The NFL feels that it can serve us a turd sandwich and we'll eat it, even if we complain the whole time. Unfortunately, it's not a diet that fans are going to thrive on and some will be lost along the way.
Last night was my tipping point. It's not so much that the team that I root for lost, but that the game was a total shit show throughout. In fact, one could make a convincing case that my team's opponent had a bigger referee disadvantage last night, but the point is that it was the main story from the game. The announcers were openly mocking the refs in the second half of the game and I'm not sure I have ever heard the crowd chat "bullshit" at a game for as long and as lustily as the home audience did last night. The refs, as most crews have been for the last three weeks, were overwhelmed. It was impossible to watch the game and not think the refs had way to much to do with it.
So until the NFL solves the labor issue with the refs, I'm done. I'm done watching the games. I'm done caring about things like the football pool I normally enjoy. I'm done supporting a league that is more concerned with <0.1% of worth than the product is puts out. I'm done spending time on a frustrating occupation.
Goodbye NFL, I hope you get yourself right and we can see each other again sometime.
*The real kind, not the one with a round ball.