How the NFL Referees Association Got Roped Into “Deflategate”

The organization that represents pro football referees gave ESPN an earful after a report appeared to tie referees to the ongoing scandal involving the New England Patriots and some lighter-than-usual footballs.

The Super Bowl may be long over, but the scandal that arose after the AFC Championship Game still has legs—and one association wants to be sure the finger-pointing doesn’t tarnish its members.

Of course, we’re talking about “Deflategate”—an investigation into allegations that the New England Patriots underinflated the team’s balls to gain an unfair advantage over their opponent, the Indianapolis Colts. Thus far, the probe has failed to produced definitive conclusions.

But the continuing story has now pulled the NFL Referees Association (NFLRA) into its orbit. Last week, ESPN reported that the league fired a “game official” for selling footballs that the person handled during the game.

When people say ‘an NFL official,’ they think about the guys who wear the striped shirts.

The report immediately led NFLRA officials to ask for a “public apology” from the network.


“No NFL Game Official has been fired in connection with the circumstances involving footballs used in the AFC Championship Game,” NFLRA Executive Director Jim Quirk said. “Our members have and will continue to cooperate fully with the NFL’s investigation into this matter, and we request an immediate retraction of this story and a public apology to our membership.”

Quirk, speaking to Boston radio station WEEI, said it comes down to phrasing.

“I don’t know how they classify their employees, but when people say ‘an NFL official,’ they think about the guys who wear the striped shirts, and I can categorically tell you that there was no NFL football official involved in any way, shape, or form,” he said.

The demand by the association was the subject of some good-natured ribbing.

“Now the referees want an apology,” snarked Boston.com columnist Bill Speros. “The line of aggrieved parties in the so-called Deflategate scandal can form a circle around Gillette Stadium.”

Nonetheless, the complaint was effective: ESPN didn’t publicly apologize but did update the report to emphasize that “a game-day employee” was involved—not referees.


Ernie Smith

By Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is a former senior editor for Associations Now. MORE

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