NFL's Goodell apologizes to American pigskin fans
September 29, 2012, 12:01 am TWN
NEW YORK -- With the NFL's regular referees returning to action, Commissioner Roger Goodell apologized Thursday to the fans who fretted about the replacements the last three weeks.
After two days of marathon negotiations — and mounting frustration across the league — the NFL and the officials' union announced at midnight Thursday that a tentative eight-year agreement had been reached to end a lockout that began in June. The regular referees' return couldn't have come soon enough for many players, coaches and fans.
"Obviously when you go through something like this, it's painful for everybody," Goodell said on a conference call about 12 hours after the deal was struck. "Most importantly, it's painful for fans. We're sorry to have to put fans through that. Sometimes you have to go through something like that in the short term for the right agreement for the long term."
The deal follows the Seattle Seahawks' chaotic last-second win over the Green Bay Packers on Monday night in which the replacement officials struggled. Goodell, who was at the bargaining table Tuesday and Wednesday, said regular officials would officiate the Browns-Ravens game at Baltimore on Thursday night.
The seven-man crew working the game is led by referee Gene Steratore, a 10-year NFL veteran.
"We are glad to be getting back on the field for this week's games," NFL Referees Association President Scott Green said.
The players' union is happy to have them.
"Our workplace is safer with the return of our professional referees," the NFLPA said in a statement Thursday. "We welcome our fellow union members back on our field."
Plenty of players chimed in, too.
"Never thought I would be excited for the refs to come back to work but it's about time it was definitely necessary!" Cleveland return specialist Josh Cribbs tweeted Thursday morning.
Added Minnesota punter Chris Kluwe: "It was a noble experiment, but I think ultimately a failed experiment, from what we've seen. It'll be good not to have to worry about that when we're on the field. It's good that it won't be a distraction anymore."
Shortly after the news broke, Buffalo running back C.J. Spiller tweeted, "Welcome back REFS."
The tentative deal must be ratified by 51 percent of the union's 121 members. They plan to vote Friday and Saturday in Dallas.
For the Packers, Redskins, Lions and other teams who voiced their displeasure with calls that might have swayed games, the agreement doesn't change their records. But after having replacements for the first three weeks, triggering a wave of outrage that threatened to disrupt the rest of the season, Titans quarterback Matt Hasselbeck probably spoke for his peers by simply echoing Spiller: "Welcome back."
The agreement hinged on working out pension and retirement benefits for the officials, who are part-time employees of the league. The tentative pact calls for their salaries to increase from an average of US$149,000 a year in 2011 to US$173,000 in 2013, rising to US$205,000 by 2019.
Beginning with the 2013 season, the NFL will have the option to hire a number of officials on a full-time basis to work year round, including on the field. The NFL also will be able to retain additional officials for training and development, and can assign those officials to work games. The number of additional officials will be determined by the league.