Players on some NFL teams have begun wearing iron balls chained to their ankles to protest something, but referees say the practice could confuse the chain crews and coaches say they might have to reinvent their entire approach to the game.
“If this is an extension of the ‘take a knee’ protest, we’re fine with it,” said a statement from the NFL Referees Association. “Players risk serious damage to their knees every game anyway, so getting hit with a swinging iron ball – hey, that’s their choice. But if this is some sort of new protest over biased officiating, we have a serious problem with it.”
Head coaches who employ the West Coast offense say they’re less concerned than those who rely on the running game, but some receiver’s coaches disputed that.
“Wearing a 20-pound ball on your ankle is hard enough for a lineman,” said an anonymous coach for the New York Giants. “But I have no idea how our wide receivers are going to run their routes. Although maybe it will help them keep one foot inbounds. This is a real game changer.”
Every coach we talked to said federal workplace rules require them to accommodate the players who chain up.
Players themselves are not united on the reason for the balls and chains. Some say they want to stand for the national anthem and still show solidarity with Colin Kaepernick. Others say it’s because NFL Referee Pete Morelli has a clear and statistically obvious bias against the Philadelphia Eagles. Players for the Detroit Lions say they’re protesting game clock management practices by the league.
NFLRA Executive Director Scott Green said in the statement that officiating crews are made up of different officials each season and that claims of bias “demonstrate a fundamental lack of knowledge about NFL officiating.”
Owners say the new protest will lengthen the time it takes to play a game, potentially boosting ad revenue, but advertisers are less optimistic.
“Thanks to you-know-who, the return on our ad investments is shrinking,” said a member of the Ford Motor Corp. marketing department who asked to remain anonymous. “I’m not sure we want games to last longer than they already do.”