The NFL and its referees union have reached a deal just days after a blown call, an emotionally charged tweet that set off a social media firestorm, and a PR crisis that threatened the league’s reputation
Regular officials will return to the field
for tonight’s Baltimore Ravens-Cleveland Browns game. The overwhelming response on Twitter this morning: Hallelujah.
So was it the PR crisis that led to the agreement?
“It’s tough to make cause and effect statements like that,” said PR pro Jackson Wightman. “I think after all the negative talk last week from fans, players and other NFL stakeholders, and a weekend of bad officiating, Monday was the icing on the cake.”
During Monday night’s Green Bay Packers-Seattle Seahawks game, replacement referees—who have officiated for the past three weeks after the NFL locked out its regular refs—signaled a touchdown on the final play, handing the Seahawks a 14-12 win. A review of the play shows that the refs not only made the wrong call, but also missed a decisive pass interference penalty.
Although replacement officials have made a series of blunders in recent weeks, the Packers-Seahawks call received the most attention. According to Twitter
, the incident sparked more than 1 million tweets, including these from Packers offensive lineman TJ Lang:
Lang’s outbursts generated more than 150,000 retweets. (The league said it would not fine him for the emotionally charged tweets; Lang later said his only regret was dropping the F-bomb.)
In the wake of the game, negative sentiment on social media towards the NFL skyrocketed
Editorials in various media outlets harangued the officials and the league, and called for an end to the lockout. Even the presidential candidates weighed in, as President Obama and GOP vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan found common ground on the issue: Get the regular officials back to work.
Commentators pointed out that the NFL’s reputation was in crisis
“Monday's debacle made the CBC National with Peter Mansbridge (that's Canada’s most famous journalist),” according to Wightman, who lives in Montreal. “It was very telling of the level of crisis that was brewing.”
In response to the uproar, the league released a statement
Tuesday highlighting the missed pass interference penalty, but saying the controversial call stands. Meanwhile, league officials and the referees union met at the bargaining table, where they hammered out a deal late Wednesday night.
“The outcry was so loud, and with the credibility of the league being called into question by so many from coast to coast, including the President of the United States, an agreement had to be reached,” said sportscaster Jim Gray on FoxNews.com
John Nichols, a writer for The Nation
, said on Twitter
that the lockout offers unions an important piece of advice, which speaks to the critical role of communication.
“Outrage over absence of real refs gets settlement by NFL w/refs union. Lesson: Make union struggles popular struggles.”