The NFL Referees Association released a statement Thursday denouncing "recent media reports alleging bias in NFL officiating."
The NFLRA's statement didn't identify the reports that prompted the statement, but acknowledged to ESPN that the statement was in part a response to commentary in Philadelphia after the Philadelphia Eagles' 28-23 victory over the Carolina Panthers last Thursday night.
Even though they were victorious, the Eagles were penalized 10 times for 126 yards while the Panthers were called for just one penalty, resulting in 1 yard lost. The discrepancy led to criticism of referee Pete Morelli and his crew and prompted one Eagles fan to start an online petition calling for Morelli to be banned from officiating future Eagles games, citing bias by Morelli's crew in the past four Eagles games those referees have officiated.
The fan, Will Philbrick, wrote that "preventing Morelli from refereeing Eagles games will result in a more trustworthy and honest NFL." As of Thursday morning, the petition had more than 71,000 signatures.
"Claims like these demonstrate a fundamental lack of knowledge about NFL officiating," NFLRA executive director Scott Green said in the statement. "NFL officials are graded on every call made in every game. Missing a single one can hurt his or her ranking and may be the difference between working in the postseason or not."
Green said that "recent attempts to sensationalize statistics and create click-bait headlines lack important context" and "the information being pushed is completely misguided" when presented "without the proper perspective."
"The reports incorrectly focus solely on number of penalties called and the total yardage assessed on a team compared to its opponent.
"This relies solely on end-of-game statistics, which are not an accurate picture of the game's called penalties. It fails to take into account that some penalties that are called are declined.
"Conversely, not all penalty yardage is equal. Team A may be assessed 30 penalty yards via six separate five-yard fouls, but Team B could be assessed 30 yards through one pass interference penalty."
The statement also noted that claims of officiating bias fail "to consider the reality that crews are made up of different officials each season."
Green lauded "the passion of NFL fans and teams" as a big reason for the success football but said "it's no excuse for the irresponsible and baseless claims we've seen lately."
"NFL officials are committed to upholding the integrity of the game and do so every week," he said.