Friday, September 28, 2012

Dear NFL: WTF Were You Doing?

This column originally appeared in the Sun Chronicle on September 28, 2012

By Bill Gouveia

            This is an open letter to National Football League Commissioner Roger Goodell and all the NFL owners:

            As a lifelong football fan and NFL season ticket-holder for the last four decades, I am urging you, cajoling you, begging you if that's what it takes - do the right thing.  Put aside your differences, your egos, and your pride.  Bring back the real NFL officials, and do it today - right now - before you ruin a great game and an exciting season.

            I know you folks are smart businesspeople.  You have built the most successful sports league in the world.  You take in billions of dollars in revenue, build stadiums that cost more than the national budget of many small countries, and charge obscene amounts of money for everything from hot dogs to shirts with your best players name on them.  You've built a veritable empire, with a game as the foundation.

            Are you really going to continue to risk doing severe and permanent damage to your product because you can't come to agreement with the people you pay to officiate it?  That just makes no sense.  I don't pretend to know all the issues between you and the real NFL officials, or how many dollars they translate into.  But I do know this - you are hurting the quality of your brand by using inferior officiating talent unnecessarily.

            I am not saying this as a Patriots fan disgruntled with a 1-2 start (though I am indeed both those things).  I don't believe my team has lost any games as a direct result of poor officiating (sorry all you Green Bay fans), though it certainly hasn't helped.  I'm just tired of watching first-class football ruined by third-class officiating.  As a season ticket-holder, I'm tired of paying for it.  You cheapened the product but not the price to watch it.  You owe me and my fellow fans better.

            I was in Baltimore Sunday night for the nationally-televised game there.  I'm pretty sure I recognized one of the officials from a flag football league.    No doubt he's a nice guy, but I don't think he was prepared for his current role.

            What is wrong with you?  Can't you see the absurdity of the system you are currently using?  I mean, I live in New England.  If we ran our local towns the way you are running your league, how awful would that be?

            What if we hired well-paid professionals to run our local governments, then let a small group of people with little experience or expertise have the final say as to what they have done?  Imagine allowing them to build a game plan based on months of planning and study, then letting all their work be judged and critiqued by folks basically unfamiliar with the system itself.  How can you allow this to happen?

            What's that?  You say that sounds a lot like the Open Town Meeting system of government most towns around me use?  Town officials present complex budgets they spent months constructing and 150 or so people (most seeing it for the first time) approve or disapprove it?   Um, I guess I see your point.

            But that doesn't change the fact what you are doing is colossally stupid.  You are destroying the integrity of the very game that has made you all millionaires.  And for what?  Because the people you dress up in stripes every week want more money and some long-term stability? 

            You are the only major professional sports league that doesn't employ full-time officials.  I understand you play fewer contests, but it has been pretty clearly demonstrated that your game requires trained professionals to make sure it is run properly. I speak for football fans everywhere when I say we have new-found respect for the Zebras, as they are not-so-affectionately called.  They are a little bit like cops you dont always appreciate what they do until you need them.

            So clean up your act and get professional officials back in your professional league.  Either that or reduce ticket prices and TV rights fees to reflect the product you are actually producing.  Yeah, I thought so.

            And forget what I said about Town Meeting.  I think I need to use a different example.           
Bill Gouveia is a local columnist and can be emailed at and followed on Twitter at @Billinsidelook.

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