Is affirmative action coming to the Super Bowl? That’s the question being raised by the New York Times, Yahoo News and now Deadspin after NFL referee Jerome Boger — who was part of a very specific recruiting program geared toward minority candidates — was selected for the big game despite in-season grades that would have automatically disqualified him from being in the running.
Deadspin reports that a set of unwritten but well-known guidelines the league used for its all-star squad of officials for years was recently changed in order to make it more diverse. In updates published just last week, the NFL confirmed that instead of taking the five highest-rated individuals at their respective positions and placing them on the Super Bowl squad, new candidates will only have to be in the top five of a given position, as long as those ranked higher already have Super Bowl experience. Previously, it had long been established that a candidate for the Super Bowl must have conference championship experience at some point in his career, and Mr. Bonger had not.
Perhaps the most damning evidence comes from Yahoo News, which confirmed that all eight “downgrades” that Mr. Boger received for his officiating during the course of the season were wiped from his record. Downgrades are negative scores assigned to a referees after the game, after the league has had a chance to review video.
Another theory being presented for Boger’s selection is that the NFL isn’t happy with how some officials reacted after the referee lockout came to an end a quarter of the way through the 2012 season. Giving the big whistle for the big game to someone less qualified is something of a payback for that. Two prominent officials, Gene Steratore and Ed Hochuli, didn’t work a single playoff game.