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Replacement referees ripe for manipulation by NFL players

Their title alone makes it difficult for NFL players to take them seriously. When players hear the term "replacement officials," they smell blood in the water, immediately recognizing that these referees likely feel privileged to be calling a professional game and are generally in over their heads. This is a breeding ground for manipulation.

In my opinion, that's what we've seen through the first three weeks of the season, with countless players getting up-close-and-personal with officials while lobbying for calls. The players likely understand these officials might be enamored with their status in the game or even with their charisma. In the end, however, any admiration the replacement officials might show for the players would undermine their authority.

When I played, I always tried to be diplomatic with officials, hoping that I could get them on my side. That was the approach most players took, because the officials wouldn't entertain whiners. Now, though, players intentionally try to intimidate the referees before games by reminding them that they are new and telling them how big the game is. Knowing the officials are likely star-struck, the players also engage them in conversation, calling them by their first names.

During games, players are going into beast mode, screaming at officials with conviction that they are right and the referees are wrong. This likely leads officials to start doubting themselves. Before you know it, they start seeing phantom infractions and throwing flags in an effort to seek the validation of complaining star players.

I believe that's what we saw Monday night in the bizarre Green Bay Packers-Seattle Seahawks game. On a third-and-2 play with 11:31 remaining in the fourth quarter, the Packers were on Seattle's 47-yard line and trailing, 7-6. Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers targeted tight end Jermichael Finley on a short pass that was broken up by Seahawks safety Kam Chancellor. Defensive pass interference was called, even though Chancellor had clearly made a clean play.

The call didn't surprise me, because earlier in the game, when the Packers' wide receivers were getting shut down by Seahawks defenders Brandon Browner and Richard Sherman, Greg Jennings and Rodgers were working the refs like the crafty veterans they are.

A current NFL player recently told me that during a game this season, one of the replacement officials told him his son was "a big fan." If an official had said something like that to me during a game, I would have harassed him until he broke, getting him to co-officiate all the calls I didn't like. That's not the type of conversation Mike Carey or Ed Hochuli would be engaging in with players.

When I was in the league, I grew accustomed to the only kind of conversation I would have with veteran officials like Carey or Hochuli. It consisted of the usual standard greeting: "Have a good game." I respected them because they were out there doing their jobs, not looking to rub elbows.

As players, we knew the officials and the officials knew us. There was a history there that led to respect and sportsmanship -- not always, but the majority of time. And you always understood that the referees would be objective, and could not be influenced through intimidation or continuous whining.

Sadly, that is no longer the case.

Follow Akbar Gbajabiamila on Twitter _@AkbarGbaja_.

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