Complaining NFL fans need to show unhappiness over officiating by tuning out games

Jason Cole
Yahoo! Sports

So you hate the idea of replacement refs ruining your precious games and the "greedy billionaire" owners who have forced you to watch a bastardized version of it?

Here's my reaction to your whining: Until you decide to stop watching the games, zip it.

Now, there is some relief in sight after progress was made Tuesday night and early Wednesday. One NFL owner told Yahoo! Sports that he could see a settlement with the NFL Referees Association to end the lockout by the end of this week or next. NFL Network reported that the league and the referees' association bridged the gap on the addition of "developmental" refs. It's basically 21 additional refs to be brought in to be available as other refs decline in performance.

That leaves the pension issue as the last major stumbling block. In short, what's actually happening on the field has little to do with the progress of the talks. This fight is about money, plain and simple. That's the bottom line in the aftermath of the Seattle Screw, Fail Mary, Simultaneous Misreception or whatever other names are given to the last play of Seattle's controversial win over Green Bay on Monday night.

[More: Michael Silver: The worst call in NFL history? | Photos]

While it's easy to understand the pleas to NFL owners and management (that would be you, commissioner Roger Goodell) about bringing back the veteran refs, here's what I have to say to that:

Who are you kidding?

The NFL has known for years now that fans will come crawling back to the game. Yeah, you might be strong enough to swear off the stuff for a day or two, but the reality is you can't resist.

NFL owners know their game of controlled violence – generally packaged in a three-hour window of time and topped with a bunch of rituals (tailgaters, player introductions and the national anthem among them) – is the perfect once-a-week event for those people seeking some mindless escape. Every time you see Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones flashing that wry smile, it's because he knows he has found a fool-proof way of making money.

So that's why I say to all fans who are complaining about the system, shut your yaps. Unless you really want to do something, put a sock in it. The same goes for so many current and former NFL players, from T.J. Lang to John Lynch. I respect what you guys do. You play or played a brutal, tough sport. But when it comes to making sacrifices that hit at philosophical and ethical issues, let's get serious.

If people who love the NFL really want something to change, there is one quick answer available to them on Thursday night: Don't watch the Cleveland Browns-Baltimore Ravens game on Thursday night on NFL Network. You've got choices. There's "Grey's Anatomy", "The X Factor", "The Office" and "Two and a Half Men". If you need a sports fix, there's this thing called baseball that is about to start its playoffs.

Oh yeah, baseball, the game that used to be known as the National Pastime.

[More: What replacement refs do for their 'real' jobs]

Until fans are willing to turn off from the NFL, the owners have no incentive to change their business practices. Why should they when the fans (and the fans' money) keep rolling in?

I know this is not an original thought. Fans talk about boycotts and make other idle threats all the time. Word on Tuesday out of Wisconsin was that some fans were trying to organize a walkout at halftime of the Packers game against New Orleans on Sunday.

I'll believe it when I see it.

What I'm far more likely to see is owners sitting in their luxury boxes, smiling at the fans who keep handing them money, even when a critical part of the product is second-rate. Sure, some owners realize that they are playing a dangerous game. It's not good that the only thing people are really discussing about the Monday night game was the officiating and not the stunning defensive performances by both the Seahawks and the Packers.

[More: Patriots' Bill Belichick fined $50,000 for grabbing ref]

For now, the owners are very confident that once this lockout is settled, it will quickly fade into every fan's distant memory.

Sort of the way $8 beers flow down their throats.

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