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Fans Not Pleased With NFL's Replacement Refs


This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Linda Wertheimer. Now, to sports.


WYNONNA CARR: (Singing) Life is a ball game, being played each day...

WERTHEIMER: Frustrating news for football fans. The NFL says it will open its regular season next week with replacement referees. Yesterday, the NFL Referees Association and the league ended negotiations after failing to reach a resolution on a new labor deal. The season's first game is Wednesday between the New York Giants and the Dallas Cowboys. To break this down, NPR's Mike Pesca joins us, as he does every week. Hi, Mike.


WERTHEIMER: So, these replacement refs have been officiating at games during the preseason with, shall we say, mixed results. Is the league going to fix this?

PESCA: I mean, they have gotten one or two offsides calls right a game. But, yeah, because a lot of these referees are on the Division 2 level or sometimes have coached maybe lingerie football, they don't know where to look at the camera, they get the numbers wrong. It just seems a little bit unprofessional. Separating the former NFL refs is the issue of money. The referees say, you know, each team kicked in 100 grand, they would bridge the gap between where we are and where the league is. The league says, look, you guys work 16 games a year, you're already paid on average almost $150,000. You want $190,000. The thing is there's always money at stake, but I find the reporting on these issues a little frustrating. It happened with the basketball lockout, happened with the football lockout. It's always seen as so dire and I can't believe these two sides can get together. But if you've covered negotiations of a non-sports nature, you know that sides don't get to talking unless they absolutely have to. So, we might miss a week. We might miss a couple of weeks. If I had to make a prediction, I would find it hard to believe that the league would go a full year using referees who put the players' health in jeopardy.

WERTHEIMER: So, Mike, last week, we talked about Lance Armstrong's decision to give up his fight against the doping charges leveled at him by the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, and you wanted to add a footnote to that conversation.

PESCA: Well, there's one argument that's stuck in my craw. Armstrong always says he never failed a drug test. I think this needs to be looked at critically. First of all, a lot of the drugs that they say there's evidence that he took, there was no tests available for them while he was racing. There's another side note that U.S. anti-drug officials say that he did fail drug tests and they were covered up and so forth. But it's very important to think about some of the famous athletes we know who've done steroids, who've done drugs. Let's take Marion Jones. Here's an athlete, very defiant - I never took drugs - until it as proved that she did take steroids. The medals from her 2000 Sydney Olympics were stripped. And she, while performing, while an athlete, never failed a drug test until 2006, well after all this took place. And in fact, those failed drug tests aren't even officially on the books because she withdrew from competition. So, I would just like to take this talking point - I know why Lance Armstrong says it; it's because it works - but we need to think really critically about how misleading that talking point is.

WERTHEIMER: I'm glad we've settled that, Mike.

PESCA: Yeah. We as a nation can proceed now.

WERTHEIMER: So, do you have a curveball for us?

PESCA: I do - a guy I've talked about before, Adam Dunn. He's the slugging first baseman for the Chicago White Sox. He does two things at prodigious rates - three things really. He's leading the league in home runs, he's leading the league in walks and he's leading the league in strikeouts. And if he keeps that up, there's only one other player in baseball history who did that, and that's Babe Ruth. And the crazy thing about the difference between Babe Ruth and Adam Dunn, of which there are many differences, is that when Babe Ruth was leading the league in strikeouts, it was fewer than 100 strikeouts. Adam Dunn will strikeout over 200 times this year. And Babe Ruth hit .300 when he was striking out so often. Baseball has evolved to this place where if you hit plenty of home runs, like Adam Dunn does, people don't even care about most of the other statistics. He is putting into the record books a unique season in baseball history, both the good and the bad occurring simultaneously.

WERTHEIMER: NPR's sports correspondent Mike Pesca. Mike, thank you.

PESCA: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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