Greed is good? Not when it comes to the NFL’s locked-out refs

Now it’s personal. First, Wall Street took a machete to the economy while in a febrile fit of greed. That gave Wisconsin “reformers” an excuse to scapegoat public workers, stripping away their collective bargaining rights and slashing their compensation, all while the real culprits gorged on fat bailouts and bonuses. But this is Green Bay Packers football. You don’t mess with Packers football. Economic justice for refs, now!

Okay, so there’s a certain amount of facetious tongue-in-cheek whimsy mixed in with my early morning rage. You try to cope any way you can. But anyone who watched that travesty last night knows what happened – the team that really won the game was unceremoniously awarded a loss. That can’t happen. This isn’t amateur hour. This is the NFL.

Indeed, just a year after mutual owner-player greed threatened the previous NFL season, referee incompetence (a predictable result of more greed) threatens this season’s integrity.

There’s a certain amount of irony to all this, of course. Judging by my Facebook feed, some of the same people who seemed content to stand by while the state moved to ensure their children and grandchildren will be watched over by bargain-basement instructors are now enraged by the NFL owner-referee impasse.

Will this be the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire of the twenty-teens – the catalyst that moves workers to revolt at last against systemic greed? (That’s a crass and tactless comparison, I know. But did you see that pass? Clearly a pick. Remember, remember the 24th of September.)

Unfortunately, nothing that happens in our public schools is likely to cause such a firestorm. If only it could:

“Did you see this? My child wrote that Huckleberry Finn was rich in allegory and symbolism, particularly with regard to the Mississippi River and its deep themes of freedom and escape from the strictures and hidebound mores of a rapidly industrializing 19th century American society – and the moron who replaced our school’s old lit teacher completely missed it! C-minus, my arse!”

We’ll see if anything changes, but as is so often the case, the culprit in all this appears to be greed. One of the sticking points in the NFL’s negotiations with the refs is their pension plan. The Daily Kos summed up the issue nicely with this headline: “NFL wants to freeze referee pensions not because it can't afford them, but because it thinks it can.”

The post goes on to say this: “National Football League Commissioner Roger Goodell has made it explicit: The lockout of NFL officials is part of the race to the bottom. The referees' pensions are one of the key points of contention between the NFL Referees Association and the league's owners, and, talking to Huffington Post's Dave Jamieson, Goodell didn't try to pretend that the NFL couldn't afford to continue pensions for its small pool of officials. He just said since most workers these days don't have pensions, why should NFL referees?”

So as silly and inconsequential as this appears in the overall scheme of things, there’s a larger issue at play here. The economic race to the bottom continues, and our nation’s wealth inequality continues to grow. Granted, referees are paid well for a part-time job, but the NFL makes money hand over fist – partly thanks to rampant corporate welfare that allows owners to build key infrastructure (i.e., slick new stadiums) at a deep discount.

Of course, the league knows that the demand for its product is more or less inelastic. That is, people will continue to watch no matter how bad the refereeing is. But they are now clearly putting an inferior product on the field. The owners may have finally cut too deep, and a fan revolt of sorts is now not out of the question.

After all, this is the kind of grotesque greed that people really notice.