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NFL's Concussion Push With Referees Bodes Well for Youths

The NFL provided yet another example yesterday of how the organization has transformed itself into a leader in the concussion-awareness field over the past few years, as the league will start instructing referees to be on the lookout for obvious signs of concussions in players.

If history is any indication, it'll only be a matter of time before these changes seep down to youth football.

The NFL's new effort comes as a result of a concussion sustained by Kris Dielman, an offensive lineman for the San Diego Chargers, back on Oct. 23. Dielman was concussed in the fourth quarter of the Chargers' game against the New York Jets and stumbled around on the field in plain sight.

Despite that, Dielman finished the game.

He then had a seizure on the team's flight home.

When asked about the handling of Dielman's injury, Chargers head coach Norv Turner said, "Guys get bounced around pretty good. It's tough to see everybody from the sideline, or even from upstairs or a TV screen what a guy's condition is. Our guys understand that if they aren't able to go, they need to get out. I think it was handled the way we'd try to understand any injury situation."

Needless to say, given how seriously the NFL has been taking concussions since 2009, the league didn't quite see eye-to-eye with Coach Turner here.

The NFL and NFL Players Association's Joint Committee on Player Safety and Welfare met in New York on Tuesday, where they decided that referees needed to play more of a role in concussion awareness.

Starting this week, the training tapes that referees receive on a weekly basis will include information about concussion signs and symptoms.

"We're not trying to train the officials to be doctors, but we're asking them to treat it like other injuries that may make it necessary to stop the game and get them medical attention, either on the field or by getting them off the field," said Greg Aiello, NFL vice president of public relations, to Chris Mortensen of ESPN.

One person in favor of the NFL's change? Recent MacArthur Foundation "Genius Grant" winner, Kevin Guskiewicz.

"I'm not suggesting a game official should be diagnosing injuries," Guskiewicz said to the Washington Post. "But they can say that if they see something, it warrants removal of that player for at least one play. . . . In [Dielman's] case, you didn't need to be an expert to say he needed to be pulled out and be evaluated."

Guskiewicz also told the Post that he'd support making an official stay in the replay booth to monitor for any potential concussions. Pro Football Talk head writer Mike Florio echoed that point yesterday, arguing that the NFL's changes don't go far enough because of the lack of a safety official in the replay booth.

Impact on Youth Sports

Pushing Booth-gate off to the side for now, it's pretty inarguable that the more people who are tasked with watching out for athletes' head injuries, the better.

The NFL's decision to coach referees up on the symptoms of concussions gives the league that much more of a chance to avoid situations like what happened with Dielman, another inarguable positive.

And, given how quick states were to adopt youth-concussion laws at the urging of the NFL, one can only imagine that states will follow the NFL's lead here for youth football, too.

By my count, only three states' concussion laws currently require officials to undergo any sort of formal concussion training. Louisiana requires annual concussion training for coaches & officials; North Dakota requires officials (along with athletic trainers and coaches) to take a biennial concussion-training course; and Minnesota requires coaches and officials to take a concussion training course every three years.

Meanwhile, Massachusetts' concussion law requires just about everyone besides officials to take an annual concussion-training course. From what I've seen, officials aren't even mentioned in the other roughly 30 state concussion laws on the books.

Suffice it to say, there's room for growth here in states' youth-concussion laws.

Here's guessing that the NFL just accelerated that growth process.

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