GIFT OF GAB: The NFL wants coaches and players to be nicer to replacement refs. The coaches and players want the replacement refs to stop sucking. Photo courtesy Andy Lyons/Getty Images

The National Football League’s handling of this whole referee situation in 2012 is like an onion. Yes, it stinks, but more to the point: you have to peel back the layers to see just what a mess it all really is.

If it were just an isolated problem, that’d be one thing. Instead, though, the NFL has taken a crummy situation and made it increasingly worse with poor decision after poor decision. What started off as a summer offseason flare-up has evolved from a botheration to a debacle to an issue to a major issue to a nightmare and is now just an outright travesty.

The most recent layer to this stinky-onion pickle came yesterday when the NFL warned teams that they would not tolerate “confrontational behavior” towards the replacement referees. In fact, NFL Vice President Ray Anderson went so far as to threaten potential flags, fines and/or suspensions if it continues.

WALK THIS WAY: Players and coaches haven’t been quiet about wanting to show the new refs the door, but that can’t happen before the door is unlocked for the old refs. Photo courtesy Leon Halip/Getty Images

So let me get this straight: the NFL couldn’t agree on a new deal with its “real” referees, so it locked them out. Then, the NFL wouldn’t budge in negotiations and was forced to hire replacement refs. In turn, these replacement refs have been a huge detriment to the game and it seems obvious to everyone but the league’s executives that the referee lockout needs to end immediately. And the NFL’s response? Autocratic censorship.

That’s what we’re dealing with here.

The league doesn’t want to give too much money back to the old referees in their pensions, so they won’t let coaches and players yell at the replacements when they stink up the joint.

If there’s a problem, you solve it. You don’t silence the detractors. That’s what totalitarian states do and a sports league that is dependent upon putting out a quality product for its fans is anything but that.

But the real laughable part came when Anderson said that the coaches and players should be dialing it back a notch because having “respect for the game” demands it. Maybe so, but respect for the game also demands that the GAME is OFFICIATED PROPERLY. Having John Fox turn blue in the face as he berates a linesman is no less disrespectful to football than a head referee not knowing what is and is not a penalty. If the NFL is willing to allow one of those things to happen unchecked, they certainly can’t have a gripe with the other.

This isn’t like the debate over concussions or defenseless players or even excessive touchdown celebrations. In fact, it’s the exact opposite. In those cases, the league’s imposed consequences were stiff, but their intentions were fairly good in nature.

When it comes to telling teams to go easy on their replacement refs, all the NFL is looking out for is their bottom line.

The league even came out this week and tried to downplay the struggles that have existed with the officiating early on. They made points like the number of penalties called were about the same as in years past and the split of calls between two teams were marginally no different, as well. That’s fine, except the issue here isn’t just the calls that have been made. No, it’s EVERYTHING. From the calls that aren’t being made to the officials’ inability to correctly spot the ball to even some referees just flat out not knowing the rules. You don’t even have to understand football to realize these guys are in well over their heads.

So if the NFL wants to keep the real zebras locked out, that’s their prerogative. But they shouldn’t be scalding the teams for having less patience than them. In fact, they should be doing the exact same thing they are asking others to do: cut people some slack.

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When Bryan isn’t writing, he is on Twitter! Make sure to give him a follow @bclienesch for NFL updates and other shenanigans!