It isn’t often that the NFL actually gives the fans what they want, whether the fans are actually right for wanting it in the first place, but one of the things that many have long clamored for was more direct accountability for officials who make mistakes.
The league gave the fans that recently, firing an official in-season for the first time in the Super Bowl era for performance reasons. The official that was fired is Hugo Cruz, who was responsible for missing a false start on Los Angeles Chargers left tackle Russell Okung on a play that resulted in a touchdown against the Cleveland Browns.
Cruz was first hired by the NFL in 2015, so he only managed to last fewer than two and a half seasons. The game in which his high-profile mistake was made occurred in Week Six, and he did not work last week’s games. While his firing was obviously made based on other mistakes as well, it is not known what those other mistakes would have been.
The NFL Referees Association, understandably, is not happy about the firing, with executive director Scott Green fairly pointing out that “the NFL has a troubling history of knee-jerk reactions with an eye on public relations, and clearly it has not learned from past mistakes”.
It’s been glaringly obvious through many different aspects of the business that the league actively and routinely formulates decisions that are strongly oriented toward responding to public perception, whether that has to do with making changes to rules or enforcing discipline for people caught punching their fiancées. Regardless of the specifics of his association’s grievance, he is certainly on the mark with this assertion.
Green went on to say that the NFLRA fully intends to utilize their collectively bargained rights, which includes a 90-day period in which they can file a grievance for wrongful termination, on behalf of Cruz, which will of course center around the argument that his firing was a kneejerk response to one fault.
No matter how this turns out, the NFL’s decision to fire an official in the middle of a season will set a new precedent, which is perhaps exactly what they hoped to do. While it will probably foster some goodwill for the large segment of the fanbase that wants to see officials who make mistakes lose their jobs, it will also put all of the officials on notice, and on edge.
Without a full accounting of all of the games that Cruz has officiated and the mistakes that he has made, it is impossible to have much of an opinion about whether or not the firing was warranted. Certainly one single mistake is no cause for firing, and wasn’t here.