NFL Head's Confidence in Replacement Refs Won't Quell Player, Fan Concerns

Roger Goodell discusses the officials lockout amid worries of player safety

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"One thing I've learned is that you don't want to negotiate in public," said NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, speaking at a lunch sponsored by Politico, about the ongoing NFL referee lockout. However, that might not be an option, as fans get more vocal about their concerns. Though Goodell brought up other issues currently at play on the negotiation table—bringing at least some of the referees, currently part-time employees, to work for the NFL full time; expanding the roster to shift around refs if individuals aren't performing up to standards—the commissioner acknowledged what insiders say is the biggest point of contention.

"I'll tell you that pension is clearly an issue," he admitted, explaining that owners would like the officials to switch to a defined contributions program, like a 401k, in lieu of their current defined benefits pension program. "About 10 percent of the country has that. Yours truly doesn't have that," he said.

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The NFL and NFL Referees Association began negotiating a new CBA (Collective Bargaining Agreement) last October as it was set to expire May 31 of this year. The NFL and NFLRA were unable to come to an agreement by fall kickoff and replacement referees with far less experience were brought on for Week 1 of the 2012 Season.

When asked about mistakes made by referees during last weekend's games, "I hate to say it, but every week we have some blown calls," Goodell said. "These guys did an outstanding job. We were very pleased with the performance."

But his encouragement is unlikely to ebb the concerns of players and fans alike. "Fans want to see the highest quality product on the field and they don't their team to lose a game because of a blown call," says Sports Fans Coalition Executive Director Brian Frederick.

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Aside from bad calls that could cost a yard, a touchdown, or a whole game, that players' safety is compromised is a major concern to those that represent them. DeMaurice Smith, executive director of the NFL Players Association alluded to the possibility of a players strike in an interview with SI.com:

In America it is the employer's obligation to provide as safe a working environment as possible. We believe that if the National Football League fails in that obligation we reserve the right to seek any relief that we believe is appropriate. The NFL has chosen to prevent the very officials that they have trained, championed and cultivated for decades to be on the field to protect players and -- by their own admission -- further our goal of enhanced safety. That is absurd on its face.

Frederick echoed Smith's concerns. "The most competent, highly-trained officials should be on the field to monitor for concussions and other injuries," he said. "Missed calls can lead to significant injuries."

He has sponsored a Change.org petition calling for the NFL to end the referee lockout. Posted in late August, he said he saw a spike in signatures during Week 1 games—at the time of this posting nearly 3,000 had signed.

"A lot of fans are asking how can this league be as profitable as it is, with record-setting revenues and, not be able to pay some of its most important employees."

Tierney Sneed is associate editor of U.S. News Opinion. E-mail her at tsneed@usnews.com and follow her on Twitter.