NFL Referee Lockout Never Threatened the League's Integrity

Bob FirpoContributor IISeptember 27, 2012

BALTIMORE, MD - SEPTEMBER 23:  A referee seperates players from the New England Patriots and the Baltimore Ravens in the first half at M&T Bank Stadium on September 23, 2012 in Baltimore, Maryland.  (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)
Patrick Smith/Getty Images

You want to reminisce about those bad calls, go ahead.  You want to say that the replacement refs hurt the flow of the game, fine.  But please, spare me talk about how the replacement refs undermined the integrity of the NFL.

That’s ridiculous.

Never have I heard so many people take the sport of football so seriously.  As if football was some kind of noble profession that needed to be protected, like teachers or firefighters.  As if that little trademark—now apparently called “The Shield”—was a banner for kings.

What is this, Game of Thrones?

I know when the NFL talks to its players it tries to stress integrity and all that.  And no doubt we’ll hear more of it now that the lockout is over.  But folks, just because the NFL aspires to basic compliance with state laws and fairness doesn’t mean the league has actually achieved integrity.

The NFL is about entertainment and money.  Period.  That’s what it does well.

It’s not about integrity.  Integrity is a phony sales pitch the league came up with to convince people it was about more than just entertainment and money.

Shame on so many for embracing it. 


A jury convicted Ray Lewis of obstruction of justice and sent him to prison for his unseemly role in a fight that left two people dead.

Person of integrity?  No.  Entertaining athlete?  Yes. 

Poster-child for the NFL?  No question about it.

Other players have been involved in death to human beings (Donte Stallworth, Rae Carruth, Leonard Little), gun play (Adam Jones, Plaxico Burress), drug dealing (Jamal Lewis), sexual harassment (Ben Roethlisberger, twice) and dog fighting (Michael Vick). 

People of integrity?  Please.  Entertaining athletes?  Absolutely.

Pushed by the NFL as stars to adore?  In most cases, yes. 

In any normal workplace these folks would be fired and struggle to find employment.  But in the NFL, the pure lack of integrity that accompanies an enterprise focused solely on entertainment and money allowed many of them soft landings.   

People watched an apparently rehabilitated Michael Vick when he joined the Eagles post-prison in part because of his sordid past.  And you know what?  Fans, the NFL, the Eagles and Vick all came out winners.  


But is that integrity?

The lack of integrity doesn’t end with the players either.  Coaches cheat (Bill Belichick), shake hands too hard (Jim Schwartz and Jim Harbaugh) and punch each other (Tom Cable).  Even NFL writers spit on integrity as evidenced by their asinine decision to vote Brian Cushing the NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year after he was caught cheating in his rookie year!

All that, and I’m honestly supposed to believe that the NFL replacement referees hurt the game’s integrity?

Honestly, did anyone not trying to protect the locked-out referees actually believe that?

Were you drinking?

Sure, penalties were harder to predict.  And yes, the refs cost the Packers the game.  But get over it—this was hardly an earthquake to honor and honesty.  Try not to forget that just about every person on the field in every game wanted to embarrass the replacement refs on every play.

No real ref ever had to go through that.

Players, ex-players and ex-referees are pushing this integrity nonsense, and they’re using words like “scabs” to drive home their bloated opinions.  My advice—stop drinking their biased Kool-Aid.  Smart guys and gals are not surprised to see those folks fighting the NFL owners and finding solidarity with the poor locked-out referees. 


After years of ignoring bad calls, television commentators are now laying into the replacement refs with obviously pent-up anger and citing journalistic integrity to justify the attacks.  I say, where has that hard-hitting journalism been the last 30 years? 

Journalistic integrity from the booth, ha!

Because the NFL is about entertainment and money, this replacement referee situation was probably the best thing to happen to the NFL’s bottom line in years.  Never has there been more interest.  Never more eyes glued to this league.

So while the lockout may be over, please muzzle your friends and coworkers when they start in with the integrity business.  

This was never about integrity. 

This was about entertainment and money.  And the NFL isn’t about anything more.

Bob Firpo is an attorney and freelance sports and outdoors writer.  He lives in Boise, Idaho.  Follow him @knockingitout