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Wide Gap Remains Between NFL And Refs; League Insists On Respect For Subs

Denver Broncos Coach John Fox yells at field judge Jimmy Buchanan during the Broncos' game against Atlanta Monday. Referring to the game, the NFL insisted that players and coaches give replacement referees, and the game, more respect.
Kevin C. Cox
Getty Images
Denver Broncos Coach John Fox yells at field judge Jimmy Buchanan during the Broncos' game against Atlanta Monday. Referring to the game, the NFL insisted that players and coaches give replacement referees, and the game, more respect.

Despite complaints from NFL coaches and players, the league and its locked-out officials are no closer to reaching a deal than they were last week, according to reports. The two sides are separated by "significant and serious economic gaps," an anonymous source tells the AP.

A representative of the NFL Referees Association confirmed that talks had taken place, but he would not go into detail, the AP reports.

The main disputes reportedly center on salary and pension amounts — and those concerns are complicated by two competing desires: the union's hope for more officials to be hired, and the league's plan to employ some referees on a full-time basis. As The Christian Science Monitor reports, most NFL referees maintain other jobs in the off-season, to supplement their income.

News of the lack of progress comes a day after NFL representatives contacted teams and coaches to insist that they respect both the game and the replacement officials — whom the league has said it might employ for the first five weeks of the season.

"Everyone needs to be mindful that this respect for the game has to be practiced at all times, and that the events of Monday evening, in the first half of that game, represented unacceptable behavior" — NFL executive vice president Ray Anderson told, referring to the game between the Atlanta Falcons and Denver Broncos that was featured on Monday Night Football.

At one point in that game, the contest descended into a near-brawl between players. Cameras also spotted several instances of coaches angrily yelling into referees' faces.

"We're not gonna tolerate it," Anderson said. "And we expect that everyone we talked to pass word on to everyone involved on the sideline that we expect there to be a respect for what's going on."

On Grantland's The Trenches podcast, Robert Mays and former NFL lineman Ephraim Salaam noted that the replacement officials have struggled to control games in which players take cheap shots at one another. But Salaam, whose playing years included stints with the Falcons and the Houston Texans, says the stand-in referees aren't being shy about throwing flags.

"Replacement officials are likely to call everything, because they don't want to miss a call," he says.

The replacement refs have already made one adjustment as they try to keep games from getting out of hand, says The New York Times: "according to statistics compiled by, teams had 23 total personal foul or unnecessary roughness penalties enforced against them in Week 2, compared with 11 in Week 1."

Still, retired lineman Salaam says he's seen "terrible" calls by the replacement officials. The problem, he says, is when officials make calls that alter the course of a game.

"The fact that if you get a pass-interference call 40 yards down the field, and it's two minutes til the game is over, and you're down by 5 — I mean, that type of stuff right there, that's the problem: the consistency. Being able to really look at... how guys have been playing the entire game. So you don't get down to the last two minutes and you don't just throw flags.... Offensive pass interference? Like, really? That type of thing right there, it ruins the integrity of the game."

Those questions were at the top of Hall of Fame quarterback and ESPN analyst Steve Young's mind Monday night, when he said that NFL owners "don't care" about the referees, or about players' safety, because demand for the leagues' games remains strong.

"There's nothing that they can do to hurt the demand for the game," Young said. "So the bottom line is, they don't care."

Friday, the NFL released a video recap in which it highlighted controversial plays from Week Two games between New England and Arizona, and Philadelphia and Baltimore, among others. In each case, Carl Johnson noted that the replacement officials made the correct call. The highlights did not include plays from the Atlanta-Denver game.

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Bill Chappell is a writer and editor on the News Desk in the heart of NPR's newsroom in Washington, D.C.
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