The head of the NFL Players Association blasted the NFL for the current labor impasse with officials and declined to rule out a players strike out of safety concerns.
In a recent interview with Sports Illustrated, Executive Director DeMaurice Smith called the league’s lockout of officials “absurd,” adding that the NFLPA reserved “the right to seek any relief that we believe is appropriate” if it is found that the use of replacement officials endangers the welfare of the players.
“The NFL has chosen to prevent the very officials that they have trained, championed and cultivated for decades to be on the field to protect players and – by their own admission – further our goal of enhanced safety,” he said.
“That is absurd on its face.”
The war of words over the use of replacement officials comes as the start of the NFL’s regular season looms closer. Despite Commissioner Roger Goodell’s vocal support, the replacements have been heavily criticized in the preseason. Smith criticized the league for the impasse, saying it was prioritizing financial concerns over player safety.
He added that concerns over the use of the replacement officials have risen throughout the preseason, leaving players to question the current safety of the game.
“We’ve been very public in saying that we believe on a scale of 1-10, the use of replacement referees in the preseason is a 12,” Smith said. “That goes up to a 16 now that you’re entering into the regular season.
“Obviously, the game is going to speed up, the demand on the referee increases, the physical strain on our players increases exponentially, and you’re facing a situation where the league has made an affirmative decision to remove the people we consider to be the first responders to safety on the field. It’s rather obvious that the only people on the field who are not competing, who remain objective to enforce the rules, to ensure that players remain safe, are the referees.”
Smith closed the interview by saying that the issue of chronic pain among players and its treatment may be a bigger future issue for the league than concussions.