NFL referees have been locked out by the NFL since June 4 as both sides attempt to negotiate a new collective bargaining agreement. As the two sides battle back and forth, the first game of the 2012 preseason sits nine days away with the potential for lower division college officials and high school refs to be officiating the games. The NFLPA has weighed in on the subject, expressing concern about such officials undermining the health and safety of NFL players.
While the NFLPA is prohibited from striking during the course of the current CBA, the NFLPA might have an alternative action. A few days ago, Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk laid out the case for a walkout based on the league creating "abnormally dangerous" working conditions. The idea being that the replacement referees are coming from significant lower levels of football and would not be prepared to handle the size, speed and athleticism of NFL players.
This legal maneuver had not been publicly addressed by any of the pertinent parties until now. NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith sat down with SB Nation's Amy K. Nelson to discuss a wide range of topics, including the NFL referee lockout. Smith would not say if the players would walk out, but he did emphasize that "[a]n unsafe working environment is always something that is actionable on behalf of our union."
Smith added, "I believe, and our players believe, that we should be engaged in every reasonable action to make sure that our players are working in as safe an environment as possible."
When pressed on the issue, Smith's answer reflected the importance of workplace safety without directly stating what the players would do:
Amy K. Nelson: If, in fact, by August 5th, the first preseason game, the referees have not come to an agreement, and there are replacement refs, are the players considering walking out at all? Or not playing?
DeMaurice Smith: Even if we were, I wouldn't tell you.
AKN: Bottom line, will the players take the field if there are replacement refs?
DS: Work place safety is always something that we can consider and it is always something that we can choose to take action about.
If the NFLPA did elect to take some kind of action, it would likely involve filing a lawsuit against the league requesting an injunction to prevent the league from forcing them to play in games involving replacement referees. If they could prove the potential for "abnormally dangerous" working conditions, they could potentially get around the no-strike clause in the CBA.
The NFL declined to comment when asked by SB Nation about any potential action from the NFLPA related to the referees, but added, "We are continuing to negotiate with the NFLRA toward what we hope will be a successful resolution."
Check back next week for Amy K. Nelson's complete interview with DeMaurice Smith.