We've reported two conflict-of-interest stories regarding replacement officials in the last few days. There was the case of former Pac-12 official Jeff Sardorus, who worked the Arizona Cardinals' season-opening win over the Seattle Seahawks despite the fact that he was reportedly paid by the Seahawks in each of the three previous years to officiate in-season practices.
Then, there was the case of side judge Brian Stropolo, who was actually flown in to help call the Week 2 game between the New Orleans Saints and Carolina Panthers despite the fact that Stropolo's Facebook page had pictures of him in Saints fan gear and tailgating at a Saints preseason game -- after he was hired by the NFL. Stropolo was pulled from the assignment while he was on the field pregame, and he would have likely called the game had ESPN not told the NFL about Stropolo's Facebook page.
Now, we have another conflict case -- and if this one is true, it's a major stab at the integrity of the game. On Monday, Philadelphia Eagles running back LeSean McCoy was talking with Anthony Gargano and Ike Reese of Philly's 94WIP radio when the subject of replacement officials came up.
"During the game, they made like a bad call or something, the ref, and I see Ray Lewis pump his chest up, trying to scare him. Don't you know [the ref] started stuttering? I'm like, 'what's this?!'"
Well, most people would stutter if Ray Lewis was in their face. McCoy then had a more disturbing reveation.
"They're like fans. I'll be honest, they're like fans. One of the refs was talking about his fantasy team, [and said], 'McCoy, come on, I need you for my fantasy [team],' Uhhh, what?"
It's not known who the official was, or if the official was joking, but even the appearance of this kind of impropriety is absolutely ridiculous. The NFL used to have a strict policy against any sort of wagering among its officials for this exact reason; nobody wants the specter of a crooked game hanging over the league's head. Nobody wants an NFL version of Tim Donaghy.
"Gambling is an unacceptable activity for Game Officials in the National Football League," the league's collective bargaining agreement states. "Such activity constitutes conduct detrimental to the integrity of, and public trust in, the NFL. Because it is the responsibility of the Game Officials to ensure the fairness of NFL play, including the complete confidence of the fans in the legitimacy of the game, it is critical that NFL Game Officials maintain the appearance of the highest ethical conduct."
But in its rush to replace the officials it locked out, the NFL hasn't been very strong in the vetting process. Replacement official Shannon Eastin was a contestant in the 2007 World Series of Poker, a fact that the league brushed aside. We can't wait to see the NFL try and throw dirt on this story if it's true.
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