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De Smith won’t say whether players will refuse to play with replacement officials

DeMaurice Smith

NFL players union chief DeMaurice Smith speaks during a news conference outside their headquarters, Thursday, May 24, 2012, in Washington. Smith repeated charges that the NFL Players Association claimed in U.S. District Court in Minnesota on Wednesday that the 32 teams had a secret salary cap in place during the uncapped 2010 football season, and that it cost players at least $1 billion in wages. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)


The notion of a player walkout over replacement officials may not be all that crazy, after all.

Three days ago, we explained that the players could boycott games officiated by replacement referees, even though the labor agreement between the NFL and the NFLPA contains a clear “no strike/no lockout” clause.

Now, NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith won’t say whether the players will refuse to work if the league plans to use replacement officials.

Amy K. Nelson of asked Smith whether players will refuse to play in the Hall of Fame game on August 5, if replacement officials are assigned to the game.

Said Smith, “Even if we were, I wouldn’t tell you.”

The use of “even if we were” arguably implies that they aren’t, and that they won’t. Indeed, they wouldn’t skip a game check last year for their own financial interests. And players routinely say and do things that show they have no regard for their own health and safety, from lying about concussions to complaining about efforts to remove dangerous hits to resisting rule changes aimed at requiring players to wear more pads.

Still, the NFL surely prefers that no one pay attention to the fact that the league’s leverage in the lockout of game officials consists of using third-tier-and-lower replacement officials. The more that players and the media and the fans realize what could be coming, the more pressure the league will face to ensure that the regular officials will be used -- and the more leverage the regular officials will have in negotiations.

Regardless, the players no longer are on the sidelines in this fight. The question becomes whether they’ll remain on the sidelines if asked to play with anything other than the best available game officials.

They probably won’t. But they also won’t be remaining silent, either.