Should NFL Referees Be Required To Play Doctor & Diagnose Players With Concussions?
I don’t envy NFL referees. Not one bit. Every week, they’re required to walk out onto a football field and make calls that, quite frankly, are sometimes hard to make with the benefit of instant replay and 45 different camera angles. If they do their job and do it “well” (I put that in quotes because “well” is a very subjective word, especially in sports), we don’t hear about it. But if they blow a call or do a bad job, they get blasted all over talk radio shows, ESPN, and the sports blogs. Really, it’s a lose/lose situation in a lot of cases, so I would never want their job.
It sounds like their jobs might be getting even tougher soon, too. That’s because the NFL is also now asking them to walk out onto the football field and do another impossible task—point out players who could potentially have concussions. Over the course of the last few years, the NFL has made a huge push to diagnose and treat concussions better than they have in the past. However, it’s clear that some players are still slipping through the cracks and attempting to play through them. That was evident a few weeks ago when San Diego Chargers offensive lineman Kris Dielman suffered a concussion during a game against the New York Jets and then a seizure on the team’s flight home because he continued to play through it. In that game, a referee asked Dielman if he was okay after he collapsed momentarily on the field, but Dielman shurgged him off and kept playing. Therefore, the NFL is now making more a push for referees to step in and intervene when a player might be suffering from a concussion.
That doesn’t sound like a very good idea to me—or to any of the referees out there. For starters, referees have enough to do as is. They need to keep their eyes on the field at all times. They need to pay attention to what could potentially be happening off the field as well, as players are constantly getting into small skirmishes and fights with one another in the heat of battle. They need to keep the rulebook in mind, too. And, let’s not forget, the referees are moving around just as much as the players. This isn’t baseball where they’re constantly stationery. So there’s a level of strength and conditioning that NFL referees have to take into account on the field and a lot of energy they must exert during a football game.
It’s too much to ask them to do all of that and to monitor players for concussions. That task should be left up to individual NFL teams and their training staffs. In Dielman’s case, the Chargers training staff was busy catering to other players, so no one noticed that he was staggering around out on the field. But you can’t tell me that there wasn’t someone within the Chargers organization who saw Dielman fall on the field. His teammates had to see it happen, the coaches had to realize what was going on, and, worst case scenario, someone up in the team’s booths must have seen Dielman collapse. So, why can’t teams keep an eye on their players for concussions?
Bottom line here, NFL referees don’t have the time or the resources to be asked to do something as important as look out for concussions. If the NFL is really serious about asking them to do so, they should add another set of eyes to the field or put someone up in the instant replay booth who can monitor suspicious activity by players who may have been concussed. Hell, why not just ask the guy who’s in charge of instant replay already to keep an eye on those types of things? To those watching at home, it was clear as day that Dielman was walking wounded on the field after suffering a concussion. You’re telling me that no one up in the instant replay booth noticed?
It’s not too much to ask referees to know what to look for when it comes to a concussion just in case they’re the only ones who notice a player suffering from one. But it is too much to ask them to be the only ones to do it. You’re taking some of the burden off the training staffs of teams and putting it into the hands of a bunch of guys who aren’t qualified to diagnose anything except pass interference penalties and holding calls. I’m glad the NFL is still taking concussions seriously. I just wish they’d keep the referees out of it. After all, they’ve got a difficult enough job as it is. So, why add one more responsibility to it?