WASHINGTON—The locked-out members of the NFL Referees Association on Tuesday received updated information regarding player health and safety at a seminar hosted by the NFL Players Association.
“It was excellent,” NFLRA member Tom Stabile told Pro Player Insiders. “It was beneficial because it gave some teeth to the issue. Before, if you saw a [player] on the ground, you were more hesitant to call (timeout) because of timing factors and everything.”
NFLPA Medical Director Dr. Thom Mayer educated the professional referees on important issues like ways to identify concussion symptoms, fact-based progress in making football safer, return-to-play restrictions and more. Players often have the mentality of not wanting to exit games, amplifying the need for trained experts to step in and make the right decisions.
“Players will tell you, ‘Doc, you’ve got to find a way to protect us from ourselves,’” Mayer told the group of 21 NFLRA members who traveled to Washington from different parts of the country. “Our players have a 100 percent injury rate.”
Mayer’s presentation defined a concussion as “a traumatically-induced alteration in brain function manifested by an alteration of awareness or consciousness.” Although strides in helmet technologies have been made, as Ernie Conwell, NFLPA chair of player safety and welfare said, “Helmets can’t prevent concussions.”
Stabile said he learned that the quantity of concussions that go undetected is far greater than he thought.
Mayer, one of the nation’s foremost experts on sports medicine, has been recognized as a leading expert in the area of emergency medicine. He showed video replays of actual on-field injuries from the 2011 NFL season, involving players like Kevin Kolb, Kris Dielman and Colt McCoy, to illustrate to the officials the significance of the topic.
“People that don’t know the game don’t understand how fast the game moves,” Mayer said. “We still have a ways to go in terms of making sure we protect the player. We’re serious about the health and safety of the players, and you (the officials) are a part of that equation to us.”
Several referees asked questions, shared input and raised situational concerns related to their jobs. The clinic emphasized safety at all levels of the sport.
“I still feel like … if you guys see something, do something—call a timeout to stop the game,” said Conwell, a former NFL tight end and fullback. “We’ve gone around and intensely educated our guys and reminded them of the seriousness of this,” he continued.
NFLRA members suggested addressing the issue with the NFL Competition Committee in order to achieve sustained progress.
NFL official Scott Green said, “Today was an opportunity for us to learn about player health and safety issues and to get more involved. Seeing the plays and talking through these situations really brings it home.”
Despite currently being locked out by the league, the referees are hopeful a deal will get done.
“That’s the No. 1 priority,” Stabile told Pro Player Insiders. “Right now, we’re prepared.”
NFLPA President Domonique Foxworth told the group, “I look forward to the coming season and having you guys out there because I know we’ll get all this sorted out.”
Others attending the seminar included NFLRA Executive Director Tim Millis, referees Gene Steratore and Jeff Triplette and NFLPA spokesman George Atallah.
“Excellence is what we strive for, but consistency is what we demand,” Mayer said.
By Khalil Garriott