By now you’ve heard all about the controversial play at the end of Monday night’s Packers-Seahawks game, the nadir of the NFL’s ongoing Replacementgate. With the entire country blowing up around it, surely this is the incident that forces the NFL’s hand and gets them to finally bring the lockout of the real refs to a conclusion. Surely with the replacement refs backfiring so horribly, Roger Goodell has egg on his face and is desperately trying to end this before the replacement refs do any more damage, right?
Meanwhile, as many people are watching the games as ever.
The replacement refs backfired? On the contrary, everything is going exactly according to plan. Roger Goodell knows that the refs have zero impact on whether or not you watch. People don’t watch the NFL because the “integrity of the game” is so strong; hell, people watch pro wrestling knowing that it’s all staged. The NFL is first and foremost entertainment, the ultimate reality show; people watch for all the football action they’ve come to love, for the drama the sport brings, because their sense of self-worth is bound up in the fortunes of their favorite team, because of their fantasy players. Those things would have been affected by the arrival of replacement players, but with replacement officials the action is all the same, only the outcome is different. And ultimately, we don’t really care that much how the outcome is derived. It’s just one more thing for us to talk about around the watercooler.
And ultimately, that’s what the replacement refs debacle comes down to, and why Roger Goodell couldn’t be happier. It’s one more thing for the massive ecosystem of shows debating the NFL to discuss ad nauseam, one more way for the NFL to be at everyone’s lips at watercoolers around the country, a way that doesn’t involve the word “concussions” (a far bigger threat to the long-term viability of the NFL). That’s why all the wailing and gnashing of teeth for the real officials to come back simply leads Goodell to lean back in his chair, twiddle his fingers, and mutter “Excellent” like Mr. Burns.
Perhaps what happened in Seattle will cause some owners to start revolting and wondering whether the issues the NFL is holding its ground on in the lockout negotiations are really that big a priority that they justify what the league has turned into. But if it isn’t enough of them, the lockout will end when the real officials start feeling the very real pain of not collecting their checks, and not a moment sooner.
The Super Bowl XLVI lineal title was on the line in Monday night’s game. The Packers could very easily say they have a claim to it.