N.J. Lawmaker to Replacement Refs: ‘Keep Out’
By Jim Malewitz, Staff Writer
Botched penalty calls, lengthy reviews and, yes, a game-winning touchdown that wasn’t really a touchdown. Like fans nationwide, Stephen Sweeney is sick of watching the National Football League’s replacement referees mar contests with their timidity.
He’s hoping to make them go away — inside New Jersey, at least.
Sweeney, New Jersey’s Senate president, plans to introduce legislation that would ban the use of replacement officials in professional sporting events played on state soil, he said Tuesday (September 25), citing concerns for players’ safety.
The announcement followed a bizarre ending to a game Monday night between the Seattle Seahawks and Green Bay Packers. Referees upheld a widely disputed touchdown ruling as time expired, handing the Seahawks victory and bringing to a boil frustration with the league that had simmered for weeks.
The regular officials have been locked out since their contract with the NFL expired. The two sides are still negotiating a new contract.
“This past weekend in the NFL has not only made a mockery of a great sport, but shined a very bright light on how important fully trained and professional officiating is to player safety,” Sweeney, an admitted Packer fan, said in a release. “We wouldn’t allow a factory or construction site to operate without fully trained supervisors on hand to ensure the safety of employees. Why should we do anything differently when the job site is a playing field?”
Sweeney’s bill would apply to all professional teams who play in New Jersey, not just the NFL’s Giants and Jets, who both make homes in the state.
“Whether the sport is football, soccer or baseball, when referees don’t know how to properly enforce the rules, there is a real chance for unnecessary and serious injury,” Sweeney said. “If the NFL insists on putting replacement officials on the field, putting players at risk, then the state shouldn’t be playing a part in that.”
Neither the NFL, nor the Giants appear concerned about the lawmaker’s proposal.
“We appreciate Senator Sweeney’s interest in our game, but officiating controversies have always been part of sports,” they said in a joint statement to the Associated Press. “Our league office staff, including Commissioner (Roger) Goodell, has been in negotiations with the referees union for the past week. We hope to reach an agreement as soon as possible.”
Sweeney wasn’t the only high-profile state official rankled by poor officiating in Monday’s contest. Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker Tuesday morning took to Twitter to share his disappointment about his home-state Packers’ loss and to call for a return of the “real” referees, noting that “everyone,” at a meeting of governors he attended “was talking about the bad call.”
Does this mean the union-busting governor has a soft spot for labor groups, after all? No, his spokesperson Cullen Werwie told the AP.
“I don't think this anything to do with unions, but has everything to do with refs making bad calls,” Werwie said.