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Commentary - Please release me, let me go

Thank goodness order was restored to the world this past week. While the United States is polarized during an election year, is staring down high unemployment rates, rising gas prices, and a gazillion dollar deficit, all that had taken a backseat to a greater concern in recent weeks. While opposing sides sparred in the media and on Facebook about poverty relief, education reform, healthcare mandates, gay marriage, immigration laws, abortion, crime, terrorism threats, and gun control, we had bigger fish to fry.

Faced with Muslim rage out of control in the Middle East over an amateurish YouTube parody of Mohammed, the threat of a nuclear armed Iran and North Korea, a brutal civil war in Syria, and the global implications of the potential economic collapse of the entire European Union, we here in America had our anxiety focused exactly where it needed to be: the crisis of the replacement refs in the National Football League.

Earlier this year when the game clock expired on the NFL referee’s current contract the striped zebras and the NFL brass could not agree on what a professional whistleblower and flag thrower should be paid. So, the refs, taking a page out of the players’ playbook, held out for more money. The league officials called their bluff and brought in the B-team. By week two the B-team had become the F-Troop.

Watching an NFL game was like watching a merging of the Keystone Cops, the Gong Show, and The Twilight Zone. Not only did our men in stripes miss obvious calls but seemingly didn’t understand the rules. By week three I was starting to feel sorry for them.  They looked confused and scared, often huddling together to discuss a call or a rule, to comfort one another, or to plot a quick exit strategy as soon as the game ended.

Players were frustrated by inconsistencies and coaches went from being patronizing to going postal. And then after the Packers-Seahawks Monday night game the media and the nation went postal. The botched call and botched video review of a game winning pass completion was scrutinized more than were Florida voter ballots with dimpled chads when it was a White House win instead of a Green Bay triumph at stake.

By Monday morning the NFL had actually received 70,000 voicemails of complaint. NFL commissioner Roger Goodell had a PR nightmare on his hands of epic proportions. Americans weren’t this upset by Watergate or Clinton’s adultery and perjury. The Occupy Movement never had 70,000 for a single protest, but this Eviction Movement galvanized a nation under a single cause: replace the replacement refs. Bring back the original ones we used to criticize.

By mid-week a new contract was signed and when the A-team of refs with new and bigger paychecks took the field in Baltimore for a Thursday night game they received a standing ovation from fans and hugs from players. I can’t confirm it but I think I read Ray Lewis’ lips as he said to a head linesman, “I’m so glad you’re back. I’ve missed you. Did you get the flowers and Starbucks gift card I sent you?”

So, order is restored; and we Americans once again have premium grade football to fill our emotional tanks, which is a good thing since the U.S. Ryder Cup team’s historic collapse on Sunday left us empty on the side of the road.

But my soft side still feels deep sympathy for these replacement refs—vilified, threatened, and now living under aliases in government sponsored witness protection programs. Some officials, such as ones who moved flag sticks and flipped the signs on top from third to fourth down, managed to work the games in obscurity, and thus have felt safe in returning to their days jobs as Wal-Mart greeters and receipt checkers. Still others may never be able to return to their original jobs, diagnosed and now being treated for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.

That is why I felt led to do something. That is why I have launched the “Replacement Ref Adoption Program.”  For only $75 a month (roughly the cost of three venti frappuccinos) you can sponsor a replacement referee who has moved his family and is living and homeschooling his children in a tent somewhere in Idaho. For just $75 a month (roughly the cost of a small box of movie popcorn and a soda) you can help a replacement ref get counseling, a food box, police protection, and a head start on learning a new trade at the community college.

When you sign up as a sponsor, I’ll send you a photo of your adopted referee in uniform sporting a deer-in-the-headlights expression. You’ll get updates on his treatment program and his progress in finding out where his wife ran off to.  For only $75 a month (roughly the cost of a nose-bleed seat during a Titans game) you can feel good knowing that you are helping restore the self-esteem and dignity of a person who has received more death threats than Salman Rushdie. Call now; operators are standing by. 


Author and therapist Ramon Presson is the founder of LifeChange Counseling and the Marriage Center of Franklin, Tenn.



Posted on: 10/2/2012


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