Detroit Lions: An Open Letter to the NFL on Officiating


Dear Commissioner Goodell:

I’m not sure this letter will ever reach your offices, however in the era of social media I’m hopeful at least some of this message makes its way to you.

Jan 4, 2015; Arlington, TX, USA; Pete Morelli (referee) makes a call during the game with the Dallas Cowboys playing against the Detroit Lions in the NFC Wild Card Playoff Game at AT&T Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

For part of two seasons now your officiating crews have opted to not make calls that would have benefited my beloved Detroit Lions. The playoff game in Dallas last season was the first glaring incident in which the Lions were deprived of the protections other teams enjoy.

Dallas committed a clear pass interference violation during a critical stanza in a playoff game. Our players knew it. Dallas’ players knew it. Your own referees knew it, which is why they initially threw a flag for the infraction.

It’s well documented now that this flag was inexplicably ‘picked up.’ The net impact of this no call contributed in no small way to the Lions losing a playoff game. Perhaps what stings the most is that the explanation given by your commissaries still doesn’t add up.

Fast forward to Monday night’s contest and once again your officiating crew made the decision not to call a penalty against a Lions opponent in a situation that could have swung the game in Detroit’s favor. There will certainly be much media coverage of the penalty that once again wasn’t called, so I won’t waste time rehashing that. What I want to address is the issue of player safety.

Seattle’s players engaged in several illegal ‘chop’ blocks against Lions defenders and because your referees refused to penalize them, their infractions became bolder and more grotesque as the game wore on.

I know the Lions aren’t one of the league’s sexiest teams. After launching a campaign to create more diversity in the hiring of head coaches by introducing a groundbreaking policy now known as the “Rooney Rule,” the Lions not only were the first team to violate the rule, but their public refusal to comply with it worked against months of good will the NFL invested in building with the general public.

Oct 12, 2013; University Park, PA, USA; ESPN commentator Matt Millen prior to the game between the Penn State Nittany Lions and the Michigan Wolverines at Beaver Stadium. Penn State defeated Michigan 43-40 in overtime. Mandatory Credit: Matthew O

What’s more, while other NFL franchises profit immensely due to the lucrative climate the NFL has created, the Lions are one of the few franchises to actually record a loss in revenues. Intellectually, Lions fans accept part of the reason for the alienation the franchise we love faces is due in no small part to its willful adherence to that which fosters a losing tradition. There’s probably no greater example of this than when the Lions refused your help in selecting a new General Manager in favor of hiring an understudy of the man who had just gutted the franchise.

We get it.

We can’t undo the trespasses of William Clay Ford or Matt Millen.

We can’t go back in time and will the team away from a winless season in 2008.

We can’t redress the lack of marketability for the franchise as this is an extension of clinging onto a less than illustrious history.

What we can do is love our team and support its players. Though some national polls don’t give us enough credit for being loyal fans, I challenge anyone in any sport to find another fan base that has remained so unwaveringly faithful to their team while receiving so little in return.

This is why I have written you today.

One of our starting defensive tackles, Tyrunn Walker, saw his season potentially ended in Seattle by the block captured below. Of course, the 2015 Detroit Lions seem destined for a top 10 draft pick so naturally the refs decided no foul needed to be called on the play.

The Lions’ other starting defensive tackle, Haloti Ngata, also had to leave the game due to injuries sustained in this game to his lower leg. Jason Jones, another starting Lions defensive lineman also had to exit the game with leg issues.

This was a disturbing trend. Lions fans all over social media noticed a rash of illegal blocks against our players and even though Lions defensive linemen were ‘dropping like flies’ NFL referees swallowed their whistles and almost never cited Seattle with any infractions. On the other hand, when incidental contact was made by Lions players it was met with swift and immediate consequence from NFL officials.

Oct 5, 2015; Seattle, WA, USA; Detroit Lions defensive end Ezekiel Ansah (94) recovers a fumble after sacking Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson (3) during the fourth quarter at CenturyLink Field. The Seahawks won 13-10. Mandatory Credit: Troy Wayrynen-USA TODAY Sports

Seattle has a great team, but they weren’t all that good in Monday night’s contest. In fact, the teams were evenly matched throughout the evening. However, the game was officiated in a manner that gave an advantage to the home team. Neutral parties may attempt to relegate any assertions of unfair officiating as mere conjecture, but there is a recent precedent. Just a few days ago a starting NFL Quarterback (Cam Newton) accused an NFL Official (Ed Hochuli) of refusing to enforce penalties based on seniority. If Newton’s claims can be substantiated is it so farfetched to believe more popular teams, with a broader spectrum of fans also benefit a bit more from officiating than smaller market teams?

The NFL is a business and a well-run one at that. I praise the league for maintaining a firm financial footing that engenders perpetuity as I want to be able to pass my traditions as a Lions fan onto future generations. That said, the safety of the players I root for should not be jeopardized simply because it is financially more beneficial for the Seahawks to be in position to make a playoff run than it is for the Lions to avoid a losing season.

If your officials are committed to not giving the Lions the benefit of calls the least you can do is keep our players safe.

Please and thank you,

A Loyal Lions Fan

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