NFL's integrity not its motive

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SEATTLE — Call it the “Immaculate Deception.” Call it the most remarkable, improbable win in Seahawks history. If you’re a Seahawks fan, celebrate it for what it is, a huge victory against a conference rival.

But also remember the Seahawks’ controversial game-winning Hail Mary from Russell Wilson to Golden Tate for what it says about the NFL. Remember it for the incompetence of the game’s replacement officials and the hypocrisy of the people who run the league.

The NFL says it cares about the integrity of the game, but it doesn’t.

The NFL says it cares, more than anything, about the health of its players, but it doesn’t.

If the NFL, its owners and officers, really cared about the games and the players who compete in them, it would have settled this lockout with officials before the season began. It might even have swallowed some pride, for the good of the game.

Instead it has allowed this travesty to go on, through four weeks of exhibition games and three weeks of regular-season games.

It has risked the safety of its players by allowing unqualified officials to make judgment calls they aren’t prepared to make. The league has compromised the outcomes of games because it has allowed this lockout to grind on much too long.

Once again, the replacement officials became the story this weekend. That alone isn’t fair to the players who, let’s be honest, are what makes the NFL so entertaining.

In this third week of the regular season, the officials looked as if they were running scared. Instead of getting better, they’re getting worse. Their calls the past weekend were tentative. They were late. And far too often they were wrong.

It’s not their fault. Asking these high-school and small-college officials to call a game in the high-performance NFL is like asking Cee Lo to make rulings on the Supreme Court. He’s a judge, after all.

These officials were put in a position to fail, and fail they have. But don’t blame them. Blame the league.

Blame the stubborn negotiators, who tell us how much they care, when their actions are telling us that all they care about is winning this labor dispute.

Just win, baby.

The league, led by commissioner Roger Goodell, tells us it cares more about the care of concussion victims. The safety of its players is of paramount importance, it says. But it endangers those players every time another game kicks off with replacement officials on the field.

As wondrous as Monday night’s 14-12 Seahawks win over Green Bay was, at times it was hard to watch. So much incompetence among the striped shirts, so much hesitation and uncertainty, made the game seem surreal.

You would think enough is enough. You would think that Tuesday morning, the league would concede defeat and unlock the real officials.

But now, less than 48 hours before the Thursday night game that begins Week 4 of the NFL season, the lockout continues.

This multibillion-dollar industry appears willing to quibble over a few measly million as it keeps its regular officials out of the stadiums.

Let’s face it, this is a league that loves buzz, and the buzz from Monday night lingered all through Tuesday. This is the week of golf’s Ryder Cup. Baseball’s division races still are very much alive in the American League. But on the day after the Immaculate Deception, “SportsCenter” devoted almost its entire show to the Green Bay Packers vs. the Seattle Seahawks.

Like the motto of the great Hollywood publicists, the NFL believes there is no such thing as bad publicity. You can’t buy the kind of buzz the league got from this game.

And the fact is, this weekend had more compelling endings than a season’s worth of “Law and Order” and “Person of Interest,” “Boardwalk Empire” and “Treme.”

The NFL is real reality TV, and a weekend this flawed and this funny just amps up the interest. Or so it seems.

“The NFL Just Keepin’ It Real.”

So let’s not fool ourselves. Monday night removed all pretenses. This isn’t a league that truly cares about the integrity of the game. It isn’t a league that worries about the health of its players.

The NFL is big business, and this great game remains mired in the stench of hypocrisy.

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