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Ellis: Tate's Cheap Shot Proves Replacements Refs A Safety Risk

Golden Tate's illegal, helmet-first, launching crack-back block of Sean Lee on Sunday sent 68,008 fans at CenturyLink Field into an uproar, as well as the Seahawks sideline, head coach Pete Carroll included, and the receiver celebrated it by dog-crawling and pointing to the name on the back of his jersey.

And yet no one among the seven-person crew of officials seemed to notice or care. Instead, Bruce Carter was flagged for helping Russell Wilson out of bounds. The sequence had the feel of a professional wrestling match, with the referee distracted while one fighter clobbers the other over the head with a steel chair. It wasn't the only gaffe in Sunday's Cowboys-Seahawks game, which included after the whistle scrums on just about every other play, and it certainly wasn't the only major mistake around the league in Week 2 that could've affected the well-being of players both in the short term and long term.

Commissioner Roger Goodell and the NFL's 32 owners can say all the right things about emphasizing player safety, but when they're sending players out onto the field in games supervised by inexperienced, unqualified officials, it makes it seem like they only care about covering themselves in front of the media while countless concussion lawsuits wind their way through the court system.

Lee is lucky he didn't experience brain trauma on the play. *Brain trauma. *That's literally what's at stake. And while a trained official who knows all of the rules wouldn't be expected to take a Golden Tate Bullet for Lee, one would almost certainly have flagged the play, the only real discouragement there is in the moment one player thinks about sizing up another for a dirty hit.

A fine? These guys can afford the fines, and the adoration they get from teammates makes it worth it in their (sometimes affected) minds. Professional officials aren't only needed because they understand the rules, unlike these scabs, but they are better equipped to keep the players safe from one another.

"People with less experience, obviously it's going to be tougher for them to get every call right," Lee said, amazing coherently, after the game. "Obviously you want the best experience out there. I don't have much skin in it."

The negotiations between the owners and the officials union, Lee meant. I would say he and players like him have far more skin in the work stoppage than the billionaire owners watching from luxury boxes, who are holding out a deal over thousands of dollars apiece, not the millions that were in play in last summer's lockout of the players.

Who can say, honestly, what an NFL referee should make, but the owners have a moral obligation to protect their employees, and it's troubling they would accept any risk of player safety. Make no mistake, the past two weeks and this preseason have been the most dangerous time to be an NFL player in this era.

Some fans don't fully recognize the seriousness of the issue, which in my view serves to enable the cheap shot artists and the owners. They know fans want their football, and skull-rocking hits have been a part of football their entire life - the worst part, I would say, based on the seemingly unending stories of retired players dealing with terrible depression and brain injuries. I bet fans wouldn't cheer the dirty hit on Lee if they put themselves in his parents' shoes, or his girlfriend's - or those of the mother of one of these players who has been in that awful, depressive place, choosing to shoot themselves in the chest so that their brain can be preserved for research.

Put skirts on them, someone will say. Make it flag football. No, just pay the real officials who know how to legislate the game, and then do everything possible to take out of the game plays like the one Lee fell victim to on Sunday.

"In terms of negotiating, what more can I do," Lee said. "I've just got to go out and play."

Well, keep your head on a swivel, Sean. Someone's got to look out for you.

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