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Tuesday, September 25, 2012
Updated: September 26, 2:09 PM ET
Players, coaches on right side of ref controversy

By Jane McManus

Monday night after the travesty in Seattle, Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers stood tight-lipped at the podium and kept it brief when asked about the final call.

"It was awful," Rodgers said of the Seahawks' controversial game-winning touchdown that defeated his team.

Rodgers was no doubt wary of a fine. His peers, including teammate T.J. Lang, were not as concerned. The Packers offensive lineman tweeted his displeasure, first dropping an F-bomb and then suggesting the NFL should use any would-be fine money to get the real officials back.

You know it's bad when the players and coaches -- who both cursed and chased after the replacement officials this past weekend -- are more concerned with the integrity of the game than the league that pays them.

The NFL could collect fines that equal the GDP of a small country if it decides to go after every coach and player who is speaking out. The problem: The league has lost the moral authority to collect a dime.

The NFL has asked players and coaches to accept the unacceptable and fans to watch the unwatchable, and then adds injury to insult by asking everyone to keep their mouths shut in the name of the league keeping its authority.

The NFL is asking them all to be hypocrites.

Good for Lang and Packers tight ends Tom Crabtree and Jermichael Finley for having the courage to speak their convictions. Finley and several other players actually drew comparisons to the Saints' bounty scandal, and they have a point. Here, the NFL is litigating over the integrity of the league in the name of player safety, while compromising that very concept as it continues to use replacement officials.

The union-busting experiment has failed. Commissioner Roger Goodell needs to go to NFL owners and explain what happened to boxing after the sport lost all credibility. Quick -- name the current heavyweight champ. And, there's my point.

Denver coach John Fox was fined for his comments regarding the replacement officials. Redskins offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan and Patriots coach Bill Belichick also are bracing for possible fines for their actions Sunday. In a normal season, that makes complete sense. When the regular officials make hard calls, players and coaches have to respect them.

But you can't pull referees -- some who reportedly were fired by the Lingerie Football League -- out of unemployment, and ask players and coaches to have the same level of respect, especially when the NFL officiating babysitter in the booth upstairs blows the call on replay.

The Ravens and Browns are playing Thursday. Just how much respect for replacement referees do you think each of those players is bringing with him onto the field? I would bet refs assigned to the game are already seeing Ray Lewis in their nightmares.

The owners should be grateful this is the worst that has happened and that someone hasn't gotten hurt as games get progressively more out of control.

So the NFL has put the obscenity-spewing players and coaches in an impossible situation. The emperor -- or in this case the commissioner -- has no metaphorical clothes, and by pointing out the NFL's folly, players such as Lang display more actual integrity than the league.

When this embarrassing chapter is over, and it will be over at some point, the NFL should reimburse every player and coach fined. Because they are the ones concerned about the game of football, about having the game decided by what happens on the field and not by a bad call. About making sure football doesn't turn into hockey, with pauses for melees. Or into boxing, which is lightly watched and cheaply regarded compared to its heavyweight heyday.

You can't fault players and coaches for speaking the truth, even if colorfully stated.