Overseas troops don't like what they see of NFL refs either
September 26, 2012
Though gaining a measure of celebrity by filling in for striking officials, the National Football League’s replacement referees shouldn’t plan on going on USO tours anytime soon — troops in even fairly isolated locations are able to see at least some NFL action, and they’re not happy.
Through three weeks of the football season, replacement refs have had a rough time, and on Monday night, everyone’s worst fears were realized when a call that most in the nation consider wrong-headed changed the outcome of a game, handing the Seattle Seahawks a victory and the Green Bay Packers a loss. There were several other decisions that had even the usually loyal TV announcers scratching their heads.
“These referees have never refereed at the professional level,” said Army Sgt. 1st Class Jason Blackmon, a New Orleans Saints fan serving in Kabul, Afghanistan. “They don’t understand the speed of the game. They can’t keep up with the calls. They miss things that are probably the most important that an actual NFL ref catches day in and day out.”
Besides the questionable rulings, some feel that the refs don’t have control of the game, resulting in dangerous play.
“The referee situation ... is damaging to the NFL on a lot of fronts,” said Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Joe Harris, attending a USO function in Sasebo, Japan. “It invalidates the NFL’s stance on safety, because the main thing that keeps players safe are the referees.
“The replacement refs lack the experience to keep the games from getting out of control.”
“This is not a circus,” said Demetrius Kincaid, a civilian commissary employee in Stuttgart, Germany, and running back for a German-American club. “If I want to see clowns and people walking on tightropes, then I’ll go to the circus. It’s time to get rid of these guys.”
Decked out in a Miami Dolphins shirt and hat at the Kaiserslautern Community Center on Ramstein Air Base, Jon Schultz said he was trying to empathize with replacement refs, called into action because those normally working games can’t reach agreement with NFL owners on new contracts. Many only have experience calling football at other levels, such as college games.
“They’re making bad calls,” he said. “because they’re used to a different system.” But, he added: “Those bad calls, it makes a difference.”
“Everyone is talking about it, and a lot of people are upset,” said Army Sgt. 1st Class April Smith in Stuttgart. “It’s hard to believe it’s such a big deal. I usually only watch the Super Bowl and that is for the commercials. But this is an interesting situation.”
Not for everybody, though.
“I’m a hockey guy,” said Army Lt. Col. David Laflam in Heidelberg, Germany. He said the referee situation isn’t “going to change the price of beans in China.”
Those surveyed seemed divided on whether they think the substitute referees — whose work has been lambasted on various media outlets across the spectrum — will have any lasting impact.
“The fans will always watch, because they love football,” said Air Force Tech. Sgt. A.J. Bryson, a Chicago Bears fan based at Ramstein.
“I don’t think the fans will boycott,” Harris said in Sasebo. “I’m sure that some of the fans are happy because if their team caught a break, but that could change if a game doesn’t go their team’s way on a bad call.”
“If they don’t get the actual referees back, I think the NFL is going to see a decline,” said Blackmon in Kabul. “You can already see it. The players, the coaches, the fans. The referees were on the screen so much the other night that a friend of mine began to turn the channel.
“You don’t watch football to watch referees. You watch to watch football.”
Airman 1st Class Brian Gratz, “a diehard Green Bay Packers fan,” made his team’s recent controversial loss to Seattle a topic of his morning radio show at Aviano Air Base in Italy.
He said he sees both sides of the issue between the regular refs and the owners. And he’s not sure that anything’s going to change; in fact, he sees one short-term benefit for the league.
“Look at the ratings. They’re going to be even higher because people will watch this train wreck of a referee situation.”
Stripes reporters Matt Burke, Nancy Montgomery, Seth Robson, David Rogers, Jennifer Svan and John Vandiver contributed to this report.