Football Zebras
2021For NFL officials, thankfully it is not 2020 anymore

For NFL officials, thankfully it is not 2020 anymore

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When I wrote a recap of the 2020 season, I closed my column by saying “may we never again have another like it.”

This season, covid-19 is still with us, but for the officials, it will not be a repeat of 2020.

Vaccines

The NFL reported that 99% of its employees have been vaccinated. Getting the vaccine is a condition of employment. Hopefully, this vaccine will help prevent officials from getting sick, and we won’t see a repeat of the frantic Week 17 massive substitutions from last year.

More crowded sideline

During a game, media members, photographers, cheerleaders, support staff and other sideline guests, have to stay behind a broken gold line. Last year, there were almost zero of those people allowed on the sidelines.

The empty sideline gave officials extra room to get very wide and get an angle on a play.

This year, if the officials want to get as wide, they will have to jostle for position with the media and others along the sideline.

It’s gonna be noisy!

Last year was a surreal season when it came to the sound of a football game. In a NFL stadium, a game is a cacophonous symphony of noise. Crowd noise, music, PA announcements, create a dull roar for three hours.

During a game, there is a lot of profanity uttered by players, coaches, officials and fans. Usually the ambient noise drowns out individual profanities, and the sound technicians can mix the bad words out before it reaches the living rooms.

But, last year, with no fans in the stadium, we heard lots of R-rated language. The most dangerous moment for the sound techs last year was when the referee opened his mic to make an announcement. The NFL garbled the officials announcement in case a player wandered by and cussed.

This year, with NFL stadia full of fans, television sound engineers will have an easier time to make sure the sound broadcast is rated PG.

The loud noise will also allow the officials to have a conference without easily being overheard!

Mask or no mask?

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I’ve seen only a few NFL officials wearing masks to start the season. It appears that officials have the option to wear or not wear masks this season.

While the officials adapted remarkably well to having to wear masks last season (like Ramon George, pictured above), I’m sure they will enjoy working without masks and will enjoy familiar whistle mechanics in 2021.

While things won’t return entirely to 2019, for NFL officials it will be a big step toward normalcy.

Mark Schultz
Mark Schultz is a high school football official, freelance writer and journalist. He first became interested in officiating when he was six years old, was watching a NFL game with his father and asked the fateful question, "Dad, what are those guys in the striped shirts doing?"

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