As a child, my family owned just one lonely Zenith-brand television with no remote and no cable box. My fearsome big sister controlled the set under threat of violence and would subject me to the lowest form of entertainment: bloopers. Shows like TV’s Bloopers and Practical Jokes or its sad network competition Foul-Ups, Bleeps, and Blunders—which was co-hosted, amazingly, by Don Rickles—blared throughout our house and like a squat, Jewish Scarlett O’Hara, I swore I would never watch such dreck again.
But now the National Football League owners and their Commissioner Roger Goodell, in their infinite greed, have returned the blooper show to the airwaves with the weekly hijinks of their stumbling, bumbling, scab referees. The lockout of union refs has turned the nation’s Sunday NFL ritual into a profane farce. You could look at it as a living argument for the importance of trained union labor, or like a dangerous practical joke: a group of Sacha Baron Cohens in black and white stripes poking at fans and players to see just how much they’ll take before they snap.
Yesterday we were served the spectacle of 49er coach Jim Harbaugh berating some meek scab into giving him both an extra challenge flag and an additional timeout. Then there was the sight of the referee who threw his hat on the field of play, causing receiver Kevin Ogletree to step on it and slip awkwardly in the end zone. Fortunately, his knee ligaments remained attached. But this was all high comedy compared to seeing helmet-to-helmet hits go unregulated, Bill Belichick physically accosting an official and 70,000 fans in Baltimore chanting “bullsh*t” in unison for a solid minute. The owners might want to note that it’s only funny until the peasants grab pitchforks.
Then there are the announcers who with few exceptions talk about these foul-ups, bleeps and blunders like Roger Goodell has electrodes attached to their nether-regions, ready to zap at the slightest critique. In the game I was watching most intently, Washington against the Cincinnati Bengals, it felt like I was viewing Soviet state television. Replays weren’t shown to the television audience after missed calls; commercial breaks would cut in rather than dwell on errant whistles; and worst of all, when mentioned, the announcers would speak reverently of the struggles of “replacement referees.” Calling these scabs “replacement referees” is like calling a befouled outhouse a “replacement toilet.” Scour across every minute of every broadcast and the word “scab” is going unuttered. To call them otherwise is like calling a flasher in Central Park a “penile exposure expert.” Their very existence on this elevated cultural plane degrades all labor, organized or not. Their incompetence is an affront to fans and an actual physical danger to players.