For nearly a minute afterwards I stared at the screen, speechless: in shock. After a night of pulling out my hair, jumping, yelling and screaming blatant profanity on the grounds of my seminary (oops) I had no words. I was:
I’m talking about the final seconds of Monday night’s game between the Seattle Seahawks and Green Bay Packers. In what will, no doubt, be remembered as one of the most controversial calls in the league’s history, replacement referees ignored blatant offensive pass interference by Seattle’s Golden Tate as he shoved Green Bay defender Sam Shields forward and leapt up for a desperate throw in the final seconds of the game. If that had been the end of it, then the frustration of myself and millions of viewers around the country might be limited to smashing our TVs and perhaps burning an unfortunately placed automobile (all things considered, dear Miss Barbara across the street was extremely understanding). But even after shoving Shields forward, Tate lost the jump ball to an athletic and apparent interception by Green Bay defender M.D. Jennings who fell to the turf with the ball firmly clasped to his chest.
What ensued can be described as nothing short of chaos. One referee signaled a touchdown, while another signaled an interception. The stands erupted, benches cleared. After several minutes of review, the referees emerged from the booth to announce the play on the field would stand, leading thousands of viewers, sports writers and even the ESPN announcers to ask:
….the Seahawks and their fans thinking…
…and NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell realizing…
Indeed, it would. The controversial call in Monday’s game is the climax of a slew of iffy calls that have taken place this season due to a lock-out between the NFL and their referees, leading to the use of replacement referees in almost all of this years games. Obtuse amounts of penalties, questionable rulings and terrible stage presence have been complaints since the season began, but things certainly climaxed this week with what ESPN announcer Jon Gruden called “two of the worst calls at the end of a game that I can remember”. On Monday night alone, the Commissioner’s office was flooded with over 700,000 phone calls. Within minutes, social media exploded with rants about the game:
“If I’m reading my timeline right, a guy in a zebra costume killed all the Green Bay Packers and was named King of Seattle”
“These replacement refs gotta go!! Packers just got the game took from them. I LOVE NFL football to much to see this type of work”
“I’m a Minnesota Viking and I think the Packers got screwed”
I could go on, but things get rather explicit pretty quickly.
Of course, I found myself at the center of this frustration. You see, as a child I was raised, how do I say this nicely?, um, the right way:
My father is a die-hard Packer fan and from my earliest memory I spent Sunday afternoon’s watching the games with him. I’ve seen the Packers through two Superbowl victories, a slew of losing seasons and the embarrassment that was the Brett Favre saga.
My mother, on the other hand, was raised on the other side of the pond; ie England. She didn’t comprehend the insanity and frankly barbaric eruptions in our house’s living room that accompanied Packer games. When anything of significance or the slightest controversy took place, my father and I would explode in screams of protest and (occasional, just occasional, I promise) profanity, prompting my mother to respond with a slightly more abrasive version of:
after which she would inform all of us that it was time for us to calm down, turn off the TV and join the family at the supper table because she’d just finished making bangers and mash.
She just didn’t get it.
Now nothing can emulate the frustration of players and fans around the league. Few of us can truly empathize with the heartache many players must feel at having the game, literally, ripped right out of their hands. The repercussions of Monday’s game extend beyond the glare of lights from CenturyLink Field, past the questions of the NFL’s legitimacy and into the righteous anger of every player that feels that the League has greedily exchanged quality for cash and compromised the tradition of football. Let’s not forget, also, that, due to this call, some $150-250 million changed hands in Vegas Monday night . That’s not chump change, and you can be sure there are some angry losers out there today. None of this is helped by the fact that, since the game, the NFL’s official comments and trite attempts to make right of the situation have amounted to:
But, all her foreign eccentricities aside, my mother did (and does) have a point (I hope you’re reading this, Mom). Some of you chiming in from another country may resonate with the fact that, outside the United States, very few people care about what happened Monday night. Heck, within my own seminary, there’s a large contingent of folks who regarded my desperation over such a traumatic occurrence as the Packers being cheated out of a rightful victory with a shrug, sip of their coffee and “well, gee whiz…that sucks”. In the great realm of things, football is still a sport, it’s still a privilege and it’s still a form of entertainment. It really is just a game.
This becomes even more apparent when considered in the following light: since the time of the incident, approximately 96 individuals have been carted into the United States and sold into the sex trade. That’s 96 brothers, sisters, mothers and children who are now enslaved into selling themselves for the sexual pleasure of anyone willing to pay up. Furthermore, in the time it took for the final play of Monday’s game to be reviewed and confirmed, 3 children died from AIDS; in the time it took me to write this article, approximately 270 perished from the disease worldwide. Our nation is still fighting a war in Afghanistan, one that has claimed the lives of nearly 2,000 US personnel and countless, untold and utterly tragic civilian deaths to boot. And yet, there were more Tweets over the last two days about this game than there ever will be on any of these issues, combined. Injustice might have taken place on Monday night; in the opinion of a slew of sports writers and commentators it most certainly did. My only point is there are greater injustices for us to be riled up about.
Wednesday morning, Packer players put on their pads and prepared for another chance to play, on a professional level, the greatest game known to man. It’s a privilege to play that game; it’s a privilege for me to consider myself a fan and it’s a privilege to live in a country where such entertainment is readily available. But these are all privileges, not rights.
Roger Goodell owes fans an apology. The replacement refs might do well in returning to whatever they were doing before (getting fired from lingerie leagues as it turns out). At the very least, I’d suggest they avoid entering a bar in Wisconsin for -oh- the rest of their lives. Golden Tate should flee lie detector tests, and for the love of all things holy, can those in the leadership of our “professional” sports stop arguing about money for just one season?
In short, when it comes down to the wire, let’s keep in mind the reality: this is just a game.
I’m not saying I don’t care about Monday night. I’m not saying there aren’t many people out there with a right to be frustrated. But, as a loyal fan, follower of the game and devout Christian, I think there’s something else I need to admit: the referees aren’t the only things that need to be reassessed.