The NFL is basically in the entertainment business. Sure, the games are real, they’re athletes, but they make their money entertaining us. So it should be instructive to compare this labor dispute to another entertainment industry labor dispute. Let’s say the Broadway stagehands get locked out due to a contract dispute. In all likelihood the musicians and actors are going to walk out in solidarity and vice versa. In fact, this has happened many times.

There are three (at least) very good reasons for this:

1. They’re all going to have to negotiate their own contracts with the producers soon enough, and any leverage they provide for the stagehands, the stagehands will likely reciprocate if they get locked out or walk out in their own negotiations.

2. The stagehands are responsible on a daily basis for the safety of musicians in the pit and actors on stage. You don’t want some inexperienced scab moving heavy scenery around you.

3. The musicians and actors want to put on a great show. Experienced, skilled stagehands help them put on the best show they can. You don’t want to go out and belt out your solo number only to be upstaged by some idiot hitting the wrong light cue and shifting focus or accidentally flying in the gorgeous backdrop we’re not supposed to see until the finale.

Oddly, NFL players are playing football while complaining about the refs instead of walking out. But the same points above apply. In reverse order this time:

1. Good refs make for a better game and better entertainment. The replacement refs are just screwing it up, and these players are putting their best effort into the game only to have it be screwed up by a mistake by an inexperienced scab.

2. The refs are responsible for player safety. Sure, most of the calls you hear about are who caught the ball, or when to start the clock. But refs also have the job of making sure players are penalized for dangerous plays like clipping, helmet on helmet hits, and more. We’ve been hearing a lot lately about traumatic brain injuries in football, and now the players are out there without experienced refs working to make sure those things are less frequent.

3. Finally, and this is huge here, solidarity. The NFL owners are going to have to negotiate contracts with players soon and it is very likely that the reason they’re acting tough over minor issues with the refs is so that they will be seen as not giving in and have more leverage against the players. The players can short circuit that by walking out. Because if the NFL forces the refs to cave, or simply lets them go and keeps using replacement refs, then the players can bet on getting locked out later.

The NFL players need to stop playing. For their own safety, for the good of the game, and for their own economic interest. Oh yeah, and because if you are a member of a union, and you support unions, and you make millions of dollars a year, it’s just the right thing to do.