LOS ANGELES – The Arizona Cardinals' Larry Fitzgerald insists that the league's failure to resolve the referee lockout could drive fans away from the sport.
More blown calls from replacement referees could test the loyalty of the viewing audience and lead to a decline in attendance and ratings, Fitzgerald told Yahoo! Sports on Tuesday. He urged NFL commissioner Roger Goodell to rectify the situation that has seen inexperienced officials make a series of much-publicized mistakes while the regular referees continue to lobby for better financial benefits. The NFL and NFL referees union were reportedly negotiating Tuesday.
"As a player my main concern is protecting the integrity of the game," Fitzgerald said in his suite at the W Hotel before making the rounds of media and endorsement appearances in the area. "The reason fans watch our game in such high numbers is that they can always count on fair, competitive physical play every single week. That is what makes it exciting and that's what makes them view.
"It is what keeps the fans coming back so you have to protect that, it is important they believe in what they are seeing in the stadiums and on their televisions. The NFL has some work to do to get that fixed. I just hope it can be done soon."
Week 3 of the season was marred with a spate of disputed decisions but it was not until the dying moments of the Monday night clash between the Seattle Seahawks and the Green Bay Packers that the furor came to a dramatic head. Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson's game-winning pass to Golden Tate appeared to have been intercepted by Packers safety M.D. Jennings, only for the officials to award the touchdown that handed Seattle a 14-12 victory.
"Being a player you want to know you are being protected and that is truly important to me," Fitzgerald said. "On the play last night, I thought the same [thing] that everyone else thought. I thought it was an interception, I thought it was clear as day but unfortunately that call wasn't made.
"This is definitely going to have playoff implications. You know Green Bay is going to be in the thick of the playoff hunt, you know Seattle is going to be in the thick of the playoff hunt. I just hope that later on in the year this is not something that comes back to hurt one of those teams."
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The issue has infuriated fans and become the primary talking point among players, even the ones who haven't been directly affected by poor calls. Fitzgerald insisted that the main problem with the replacements is not a lack of ability of knowledge, but a dearth of experience.
"It is fair in the fact that everybody is playing with the same officiating," he said. "But guys talk about it a lot – everybody has to deal with it. We understand it is out of our hands as players, we really have no control over it so we might as well go out and play hard and do the best you can for the team you are in.
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"The new referees are making an honest wage, they are doing the best they can, but the guys who are our regular officials, they have been doing this for 20 years, 15 years. They have the expertise."
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