With the NFL season set to kick off in a week, things are starting to heat up over the use of replacement refs. Throughout the preseason, the replacements have missed obvious penalties while blowing whistles on calls that they had no business puffing over and it's starting to wear thin on the players who are getting set for the new season.
With no deal between the regular referees and the NFL apparently in the near future, the NFL Players Association has entered the fight to side with the refs, stating that there remains the potential that the NFL players may strike if forced to work with the current replacement refs.
NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith, in a recent interview with Sports Illustrated's Jim Trotter, brought this very subject up.
"In America it is the employer's obligation to provide as safe a working environment as possible," Smith said in an interview published Tuesday. "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."
Smith further backed his argument by identifying "three fundamental facts that are inescapable" to support his view point.
"One, the players and the league have made tremendous strides in trying to make the game safer over the last three years," Smith said. "The second fact is, at the players' urging, the National Football League last year gave the referees more power to spot and deal with a concussed or injured player. The third inescapable fact is, over the last 20 years the league has done everything to maintain an experienced referee corps."
Smith's pointing out of the NFL's hypocritical stance it's currently taking by not showing any hurry in getting the real referees back on the field — and the threat of a potential strike along with it — may be just the icing on the cake that the league needs to get this done. This truly is a huge issue for many reasons and the fact that it's still going on paints the league in a negative light among players and fans, something the NFL has strived in the past to avoid.
With a week left on the table, let's hope a deal gets done and the season can start with the attention being on the games instead of the alternate refs.
James LeBeau is a sports contributor for CraveOnline Sports and you can follow him on Twitter @JleBeau76 or subscribe on Facebook.com/CraveOnlineSports.