Imagine NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell as Governor, NFL Owners as state senators, referees as police officers, and suddenly you have the situation facing some states. The comparisons continue on to an unprecedented degree: Goodell’s family has deep Republican connections, everyone loves the police and referees until they interfere with their lives, Wisconsin seems to care more than anyone else.
In case you follow football even less than I do, the NFL referee union held a lockout in hopes of gaining a roughly three million dollar pension plan (the NFL is a nine billion dollar business). As most refs also have regular jobs, doing so was not a particularly large burden on their income. Roger Goodell, like he has since becoming commissioner, took a strong stance and started hiring everyone from high school to fired lingerie league refs. These refs were a little out of their league so to say, culminating with a blown call that changed the outcome of last Monday night’s game. Vegas claimed to have lost in the range of two-hundred million dollars on the call, and the regular refs soon got their way.
Pondering as less of a football fan and more of a political junkie, the situation represents a time when policy issues have large, noticeable effects—for once, a large portion of the American electorate even seemed to care. President Obama and Representative Ryan even agreed! But this begs the question: Do Americans see the issue as an important union being denied a modest pension, or a business being kept from making necessary decisions? Furthermore, how will this affect public opinion on union rights?
No scientific polls have been conducted, but the general consensus is that public opinion came down on the side of the union; interviews from nearly every news source have showed typical Americans enraged with the owners, and even Scott Walker tweeted mild support for the refs. A quick scan of NFL blogs supports this conclusion; realistically, no one seems mad at the refs. Union advocates painted this as an example of greedy businesspeople making an extra buck at the expense of workers and products; anti-union leaders have been quiet on the issue, though they would have a good argument against part-time workers receiving pensions.
The political effect also lacks any data, but it may be harder to predict. Gallup’s latest poll of opinion on unions dates back to early preseason, and any variation since then will also be affected by the Chicago teacher’s union strike. Nonetheless, two-thirds of Americans watch football, higher than all of the statistics on how much we follow the news. The unanimously outraged opinion of these fans has the ability to make a bit of a dent in how the country sees unions.
In the end, a lot of people probably won’t make the connection between the two issues—at least not consciously. Democrats presented the issue as an American (and not a partisan) one while Paul Ryan did a good job spinning the issue in his favor, likely neutralizing what effect there could be. This political junkie simply hopes that bringing politics to football will make some people recognize the direct importance of politics in their lives, and hopefully follow it with the same enthusiasm as Tim Tebow’s playing time.