Football fans: You’re the reason NFL officiating is so horrible. Own it.

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The complaining and whining about NFL officiating is back. It happens every year. During the NFL season it happens every month, week, day and hour. It’s as regular as leaves falling gently to the ground in October and Santa firing up his non-union workshop of elves. Complain, whine, moan. That’s the NFL fan officiating three-step. We all do it because it’s true that the NFL’s refs, overall, aren’t good at their jobs.

Is it possible to quantify how bad the officials are this year as opposed to previous ones? It’s less an exact science and more of what our eyes tell us. But blown calls, as in years past, are everywhere. Complaints about them are everywhere. Owners, coaches, fans, media, all hate the officiating. It’s been that way for decades and will probably be that way for years to come. Do you know why?

Because you tolerate it.

You and you and you. All of you, who watch the NFL, then complain about the officiating, and then watch the sport anyway.

If you had higher football standards, this problem would disappear. You have higher standards in other parts of your life but you lower them for the NFL. You have higher standards for other television shows you watch. You have higher standards for the type of laundry detergent you use.

No one is saying officiating isn’t tough. The NFL makes it far worse by how it treats the job. Like it’s a side hustle instead of the crucial function that it is.

If your iPhone malfunctioned on a weekly basis, and Apple took little meaningful action to fix it, you’d buy a Samsung. If your car broke down constantly, the way an NFL official does when making the wrong call, you’d get a different brand of car.

Yet bad officiating is one of the few things in life we tolerate because we’re football addicts. We let the NFL walk all over us. We get our big games and Dolly Parton and fantasy football and crumbs like instant replay, while the league’s poor officiating absolutely destroys the quality of the product. All the while, the NFL laughs at us. The league. Laughs. At. Us.

But here you are, and here I am, asking for more. We still watch despite the blown calls and incompetence, and the NFL knows we’ll still watch, and that’s all they care about.

Fans could change all of this by refusing to watch games unless the NFL took more drastic steps to fix the issue, like going to full-time officiating, or making the entire process more transparent and less sacrosanct. The league could have officials stand at a podium and take questions after a game following a bad call, the same way coaches and players do, instead of using a pool reporter.

You, my fan friend, could change all of that. You have the power.

But you won’t use it and the NFL knows you won’t. Not only does the NFL fully understand that. It counts on it. It counts on your complacency and that your anger over a blown call will subside by the time your team (fantasy or otherwise) plays again. The league is deeply entrenched in the fact that you’ll move on.

And make no mistake: the NFL, at least in part, loves the fact that officiating generates massive amount of controversy and even hatred. No one from the league office is going to say that on the record but I promise you, absolutely promise you, this is true.

The more people in the media like me write about it, the more we help generate controversy, and to a certain degree, maybe a big degree, controversy generates interest.

There’s also the fact that officiating inconsistencies feed the gambling universe. Gambling, in part, relies on volatility and risk, and if the game is more chaotic because the refs are so bad, it intensifies the impacts of gambling, both good and bad.

More commentary: The Falcons are the NFL’s iffiest division leader. They have nothing to apologize for.

Perhaps as much as any other reason, the NFL also realizes, in stark coldness, that you the fan don’t have a true alternative. NFL fans aren’t going to watch the CFL or other professional football anywhere close to the numbers the NFL generates. Same with college football.

In 2022, the NFL accounted for 82 of the 100 most-watched American television broadcasts. That number was 75 out of 100 in 2021.

The league is in our bloodstream and there’s no antidote to it. Even when the officiating severely degrades the product. The NFL could fix officiating but it won’t because it has you. Like you’re in the Matrix.

And that’s your fault.

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