An outraged Jon Erpenbach (D), a Wisconsin state senator, tweeted the office telephone number of NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell three times, adding, “If tonights [sic] game doesnt make the NFL settle with the real refs this season will be a joke.”
On MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” program, former president Bill Clinton was asked about the game.
“I would not have called that last play the way they did in that Seattle-Green Bay game last night,” Clinton said. “The Packers will wake up this morning and just sort of shake their head and say: ‘We should have won by two touchdowns.’ ”
By midday Tuesday, the reaction across the game was only slightly more muted. The NFL released a statement shortly after noon upholding the referees’ decision(but adding that Tate should have been flagged for pass interference for shoving a Packers defender on his way up).
The statement gave no indication of when the league might settle its dispute with its regular officials, or whether there was any sense of urgency to do so. However, the NFL and representatives for the referees were said to be negotiating Tuesday, although people familiar with the talks said they had been scheduled before Monday night’s episode.
“It’s like putting a bunch of college players out there to play an NFL game,” Washington Redskins cornerback Josh Wilson said by telephone Tuesday, speaking of the replacement referees. “These are amateur people doing professionals’ jobs. It’s not good for the integrity of the game.”
Indeed, the referee (technically the side judge) who signaled touchdown at the end of Monday night’s game was revealed to be one Lance Easley of Santa Maria, Calif., who, according to the Santa Maria Times, worked junior college and high school games along California’s Central Coast before the NFL hired him as a replacement.
On a fundamental level, all sports rely on the credibility of its games’ outcomes to sustain fan interest. If fans can’t trust that the winner and loser were decided fair and square, the fabric of the sport unravels — which is why the 1919 Chicago “Black” Sox gambling scandal, a handful of college basketball point-shaving scandals of the past 50 years and doping scandals in baseball, cycling and Olympic sports were so damaging.
That trust is even more important for the NFL, because it is by far the most popular sport for gambling, legal and otherwise. Various estimates Tuesday suggested that anywhere from $150 million to $500 million switched hands thanks to Monday night’s outcome, based upon the fact the Packers had been 3½-point favorites at kickoff.
“I think [the officiating problem] is extremely damaging for the league’s image,” Scott Minto, director of San Diego State University’s Sports MBA Program, said Tuesday, “and if [the NFL is] not careful, it can be damaging for business.”
Critics of the NFL typically focus on the game’s violence as the biggest threat to the league’s supremacy on the American sports landscape. But judging from the level of outrage over Monday night’s game, the NFL may have an even bigger and more destructive existential crisis on its hands if it doesn’t strike a deal with its referees soon.
Mark Maske and Mike Jones contributed to this report.