Friday, September 28, 2012

Lessons From the NFL Referee Lockout

The NFL’s professional referees were welcomed with cheers and applause when they returned to the field on Thursday, after the fiascos of last Sunday and Monday. Some lessons:

1. The NFL’s regular referees were taken for granted and much maligned, but the lockout showed how valuable they actually are to the game.  Lesson: we're all interconnected, and those who are invisible to us may be critical to running the show.
2. The referees are a key part of the “government” of the NFL; while the owners make the rules in concert with the NFL Competition Committee, the refs apply, interpret, and enforce those rules.  And we have learned from the lockout that good governance is important to the functioning of the NFL; perhaps we will learn that good governance is important to society as a whole, too.  
3. Like the referees, government is often taken for granted, but very valuable.  Unless you are paying attention, you don't see it when it does its job well and only notice it when it does its job poorly, as when it produces fiascos like Iraq, Katrina, or the Great Recession.  Those conservatives who would reflexively shrink government to a minimum, regardless of whether such shrinkage is good or bad for the public, are as wrongheaded and neglectful as the NFL owners were during the lockout.  Better to have some civic virtue and actually look to what is good for the polity, no matter what size of government it involves. 
4. The NFL owners “did not build that,” i.e. the National Football League.  The players and even the formerly-despised professional referees are the ones who actually make the game, and they have all together built the edifice of the NFL -- although the owners still exploit all for profit.  They should have been more willing to share the fruits of the common labor of all.

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