It’s Official: Refs’ role critical for hurt players

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, September 9, 2003

An article in the Jackson paper Sunday (actually, two articles &045; one in the sports section, the other in regular news) told the sad story of an 18-year-old American Legion baseball player who was killed when he was hit in the head by a batted ball.

The articles gave no further details except that the accident happened during the fifth inning of a game in Montana. Since the youngster was a pitcher, the probability is he was simply unable to dodge a hard line drive.

Over the years pitchers at all levels of baseball play have been injured by batted balls. Some of those injuries have ended players’ careers, but only a few have been fatal.

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This brings into question the role played by sports officials when injuries such as the one in Montana do occur.

In the litigious society we have seen develop, not even the officials are immune from attack by plaintiffs and their attorneys.

While I don’t really know the responsibilities of baseball umpires in the case of serious player injury, in college football there is a special appendix in the NCAA Rule Book which addresses those duties; and, with the football season fast approaching, I think it will be interesting to relate what the book says:

Appendix A: Guidelines for game officials to use during a serious on-field player injury.

1) Players and coaches must go to and remain in the bench area. Direct players and coaches accordingly. Always ensure adequate lines of vision between the medical staffs and emergency personnel.

2) Attempt to keep players a significant distance away from the seriously injured player.

3) Do not allow a player to roll an injured player over.

4) Do not allow players to assist a teammate who is lying on the field, i.e., removing the helmet or chin strap or attempt to assist breathing by elevating the waist.

5) Do not allow players to pull an injured teammate or opponent from a pile.

6) Once medical staff assists an injured player, all members of the officiating crew shall control the total playing field environment and team personnel and allow the medical staff to perform services without interruption or interference.

7) Players and coaches should be appropriately controlled to avoid dictating medical services to the athletic trainers or team physicians or taking up their time to perform such service.

Note: Officials should have a reasonable knowledge of the location of emergency personnel and equipment at all stadiums.

These guidelines were developed by the NFL and were then adapted by the NCAA for college football officials. This information is, of course, specific to NCAA and NFL play, but each sport at every level of play has similar rules for its officiating crews.

Rules for most of those games have evolved so that much emphasis is upon the prevention of injuries. But when those injuries inevitably occur, officials must be ready to step in to help prevent further damage.

And that’s official.

Al Graning is a former SEC official and former Natchez resident. Reach him at