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NFL Health Update: NFL's Dean Blandino on player safety rules



NFL vice president of officiating Dean Blandino recently answered questions about the role of NFL officials regarding player safety during games.

Q. How do officials play a role in protecting the safety of NFL players? Has the officials' role in this area evolved in recent years?

A. Game officials enforce the rules, including those designed to promote safety. By aggressively enforcing player safety rules, game officials are able to help discourage illegal acts. Officials will also alert players when a particular technique is close to being illegal so the player can adjust and stay within the rules. Another important role officials play is that of "first responder" when an injury occurs. Game officials must recognize an injured player immediately, stop the game and signal for medical personnel to come onto the field. They should recognize an injured player as soon as possible so he can receive medical attention in a timely manner.

While the officials' role in safety has not changed drastically the past few years, it continues to be a major point of emphasis. Player safety takes precedence over all other aspects of the game. Officials are instructed to remove any injured player from the game regardless of the competitive ramifications.

Q. Has training for officials changed in the past few years to help them better understand how to protect players on the field? If so, what are some examples?

A. Training for game officials now includes education on injury awareness. Every year all NFL game officials meet for a three-day clinic prior to the start of the season. The last three clinics have included presentations from NFL medical personnel. The presentations focus on identifying injured players, particularly those with potential head or neck injuries. Video examples of players exhibiting signs of injury were shown and put into context.

The education and training process continues throughout the season with videos that are shown to game officials every week. These include examples of legal and illegal hits on defenseless players.

Q. Leading up to the season, there was attention on the new knee and thigh pad rules. Have there been any issues with the implementation of the rule? What feedback, if any, have you received from players?

A. We have not had any major issues as it relates to the new rule requiring the use of thigh and knee pads. After an initial adjustment period during the preseason, all players are wearing the mandatory pads and protective equipment. Game officials can remove a player from a game at any time if he is not in compliance with the rule and we have not had one incident so far this season. Feedback from players has been positive as the initial concerns of thigh and knee pads slowing certain players down have subsided.


Former NFL players now serving as Heads Up Football ambassadors have been spending time with youth football leagues across the country in recent weeks, reinforcing proper tackling and the positive values of football participation.

Hall of Fame running back Barry Sanders hosted a clinic for the Farmington Rockets at the Detroit Lions training facility.

"[Heads Up Football] is a great program," Sanders said. "I know [the NFL has] a big job in trying to coordinate all these youth organizations ... to make sure we're playing the game in a safe way ... Those are really the things that we focus on and obviously it starts in practice every day, and it starts with the coaches and getting parents involved."

Other Heads Up Football ambassadors visiting local leagues in November have included Vernon Crawford, Anthony Davis, Burt Grossman, Anselm Ofodile, Patrick Sapp and Paul Zukauskas.

-- Bill Bradley, contributing editor

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