Players in the Chicago Bears locker room today took a wait-and-see approach to the reportedly pending settlement that will end the NFL referee lockout.
“It the dispute ends today, then it would be something we’ve all been looking forward to,” said Bears NFLPA representative Adam Podlesh. “But I believe things have not been finalized yet. I’ll be keeping a watch on the news as it develops.”
The lockout has resulted in a number of questionable calls during the first three weeks of the NFL season, most notably the Seattle Seahawks’ winning end-of-game touchdown “catch” against the Green Bay Packers on Monday Night Football.
“If nothing else, that single play put a national spotlight on the situation,” Podlesh said. “You have to remember what Aaron Rodgers said after the game. He thought the Packers should have been further ahead and that the deciding play should not have been the final play of the game. Millions of fans were watching that game on Monday Night Football. To say that brought up questions about replacement officials would be an understatement.”
To Podlesh, football is first and foremost about safety.
“It’s our job to be out there. At times we can be vulnerable physically. We are putting our bodies on the line every time we take the field. We count on the refs to keep things under control. If you get into a situation where that might not be the case, it’s dangerous for the players.
“If you look back a few years, you’ll see that there have been quantum leaps both by the NFL and the NFLPA in insuring our health and safety. I would think that resolving this issue would be another positive step in that direction.”
In Podlesh’s view, the replacement refs have been under heightened scrutiny both by players and fans, more so than the regular refs.
“That is both good and bad,” Podlesh said. “Good because they are probably trying very hard not to make mistakes. Bad in the sense that they are under tremendous pressure throughout their games.”
But to Podlesh, it all comes back to keeping players safe.
“Look at the games on TV. You’ll see extremely hard hits going on out there. And often the fans won’t notice some hits that are going on away from the camera. It can be a brutal environment. That’s where on-field regulation comes in and why it is so important to all of us.”
With an upcoming road game against Dallas, Podlesh is eager for the lockout to conclude.
“You may notice that quite a few of the disputed calls have come against the visiting teams. We don’t want anything like that to affect the outcome of that game.”
Once the matter has been resolved, the regular refs could be back on the field as soon as this weekend. The NFL and the NFL Referees Association met until 2 a.m. Wednesday morning in an attempt to break the stalemate.
“It all comes down to this: is our health and safety put first by the parties involved?” Podlesh said. “This is a dangerous game. Are we going to be put in the best possible situation? Until this is resolved, that will remain a question mark.”
Beth Gorr has been covering the Bears for the last 12 years and is the author of Bear Memories: The Chicago-Green Bay Rivalry. She is currently working on a second book about early Bears history.