NFL opens old wounds picking at scabs

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Nobody goes to an NFL game to watch Ed Hochuli, but what is lost without him?
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  • Nobody goes to an NFL game to watch Ed Hochuli, but what is lost without him?
Am I ready for some football? No, I've already made that abundantly clear.

Yet, oddly enough, neither is the National Football League.

Always a leader in the area of sports labor relations, the NFL has opened the season with "replacement" referees.

That's "scabs" in the language of a more enlightened, proud, and self-assertive labor movement.

First, while we're defining terms, this is a lockout, not a strike. The NFL believes it should pay its refs less, and it's imposing those beliefs on the refs.

Fer crissake, they work one day a week. How much money do they think they deserve?

Until one realizes that billions are bet on football games over the course of a season, and the integrity of those games rests—even more than on the players—on the referees.

Some find this amusing, but I find it almost criminal.

Baseball confronted this issue before, and like the truly progressive sport it is (like it or not, baseball owners) it found common ground with its umpires. They gave up some money for benefits, days off and the like, and they're still very well compensated. The sport seems secure.

So, OK, why doesn't some gambler dangle, say, a scantily clad woman in front of the scab zebra who previously called games for the Lingerie Football League? He blows a few calls, the chosen team wins, right?

The NFL thinks it has this figured out with replay. Everything the refs do is examined on replay, and the league office, employing eyes in the sky (and on the TV screen), tries to get it right on the field of play.

Except, oh yeah, penalties like holding calls, which can be theoretically called on every play and are not subject to review.

Meanwhile, the NFL tosses $30 million to the National Institutes of Health for medical research, perhaps to assuage its guilt over another study issued this week on football and brain injuries—this after suicides like former Bear Dave Duerson's.

Back on the field, the NFL is courting a potential disaster, and the other major sports can yuk it up at its expense, but there are larger ramifications. As Cubs TV color analyst Bob Brenly is fond of pointing out, we're approaching the point where computer video can absolutely determine a ball or strike far better than the human eye can. Why not call all the on-field officials home and leave everything to the eyes in the sky we're all seeing?

Thanks, NFL, for opening a whole new can of worms with your labor strife.

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