Life in the NFL: Behind the Scenes of The National Football League


Ok armchair quarterbacks and those of you
who know that this is a football and not much else it’s time to learn a little more about
football welcome to the massachusetts school of law educational forum come along with us
as we look at the nfl behind the scenes lets start with something you know the players
to help us with that is Matthew Slater Matthew is the captain of the New England patriots
and during my research and during my research on Matthew I found a Wikipedia reference that
said in addition to being a pro bowl football player and son of NFL Hall of Fame member
Jackie Slater that he was the world’s greatest rock climber for real? You didn’t know that
about me? Do you, are you a great rock climber because that’s something I didn’t know, I
doubt most people did. I can’t take credit for that I’m not a good rock climber no? I’ve
maybe been rock climbing twice in my life on little artificial ones so…
someone has given some false information there. What’s it like to be a gunner on a football
team? It’s a great name it is, it is a great name. Well you know it’s
something that is very challenging often times it’s a two on one street fight, that’s how
Iike to explain it but it’s something that I really enjoy doing i have a lot of fun.
The competitor in me just loves the opportunity to go out there and go against two guys.
You’re obviously very good at it you’re an all pro, a special teamer, you’re captain
of the patriots, tell me about your transition from college to the pro game.
You know, it was a difficult one. Obviously for me I grew up in Southern California and
as a 22 year old young man I had to move across the country to Boston, to the Boston area
so that was a big adjustment. And obviously the game, the game is very different at this
level. The speed of the game, the intellect of the game, it’s a totally different game
then the college game, so I had my growing pains along the way but I’ve been fortunate
enough to have some good people around me a great coach and great team mates over the
years and I’ve survived up to this point. As one of the few children of a hall of famer
what’s it like to have to fill those shoes cuz that has to be pretty big footsteps you’re
following You know it’s been challenging at times, fortunately
for me my father has made that easy, you know, he’s never put pressure on me to be like him,
he actually didn’t want me playing football because he didn’t want me getting hurt. He’s
been very supportive of my career. He’s been very, just you know, complimentary along the
way, one of my biggest fans. And he’s really taken a step back and he’s enjoyed playing
the role of Matthew’s dad instead of Jackie Slater so i really appreciate that.
How hard has it been to really make it in the NFL? Most of us see the Pro Football players
as these huge mammoth guys and you’re not that big but you’re obviously fast and tough
and you have a lot of other components. How hard was it to make it in the NFL?
You know it’s been very difficult. These are some of the best athletes in the world that
you’re going against, some of the best coaches in the world that you’re facing week in week
out so there are challenges that present themselves every day. And like I said I really feel like
I’ve had great people around me. I really feel like my faith in God has helped me a
lot and I’ve just been really blessed to get to this point. It’s not all me and my doing,
it’s a group effort, it really is. And the challenges aren’t just on the football
field or in preparation for it but all the other security issues and personal issues
that are attached to it as well. How does the NFL help you face some of those
other issues that come off the field for people with fame and fortune of being a professional
football player? Well you hit it on the head. There are a lot
of issues that you face. It’s more, unfortunately than just playing football, but we have a
league that has really gone out of its way to try and protect the players from some of
the dangers out there. We have our player engagement director, Kevin Anderson, who does
a great job of educating the young players as far as what to expect, what comes along
with, uh, a big paycheck, what comes along with fame and attention, trying to be disciplined
in certain areas of your life. The NFL, they have a number of programs out there starting
with the symposium when you come in that try to educate the players of you know these are
some of the hazards and obstacles that you might face and here’s how you can defeat those
and I think they do a great job of that. What was the hardest part off the field in
transitioning from the college game to the pro game with respect to all the multitudes
of distractions that must come with being a pro athlete?
I think for me it was learning how to say no. You’re asked to do so many different things.
You’re asked maybe to borrow money, people want to borrow money. You’re asked to make
appearances and you have to learn how to say no. And for me that was a tough thing because
I don’t want to be seen as a rude guy or a guy that’s not willing to help out but there’s
just so many demands on your play that you have to pick and choose which ones are important
to you, which ones you can do without conflicting with your football schedule, and once you
find that balance I think you’ll be able to have some success from there, but finding
that balance to say no and yes is big. What educational services have you taken advantage
of since entering the league with respect to what the NFL provides for the various bootcamps
and training for people to start to not make the transition just yet we can get to that
but what educational services have you taken advantage of? Well there have been a number of them starting
with the symposium coming into the league and I’ve always been a guy that’s tried to
maintain a relationship with our player engagement director. I’m also a member of our union so
I’ve really been able to learn a lot from that side of things, being involved with the
Union and being involved with some of the decision making that goes on behind the scenes.
I’ve also participated in the Rookie symposium as a speaker, trying to educate some of those
young guys so I think for me just being involved, being aware of what was going on around me
was important as opposed to just letting things go on that I had no clue I think just educating
myself through involvement was important. Lets talk about the Union for a minute. You’ve
been a player rep with the Union as well? Yes sir. How active is the union in trying to ensure
the players receive the benefits they’re entitled to and the services they need through the
various programs that the NFL provides? That’s really their top priority. They want
to make sure that our players get fair treatment, that our players are educated as far as what’s
available to them, post career, during their career and they really went out of their way
in our last negotiation to ensure that the players were getting taken care of, so to
speak, as far as benefits are concerned, as far as health and safety is concerned. As
far as even continuing education, post career so the union their number one priority is
taking care of the players on and off the football field and I think they do a great
job of that. You know we hear of the fights between the
Union and the NFL at the times when it blows up, but how closely do they work together
to benefit the players? Listen, that’s part of it. That’s part of
labor relations, things are going to happen, you know with business so we all understand
that. And really it wouldn’t have gotten done if cooler heads hadn’t prevailed so cooler
heads prevailed we were able to come together. We had some great leadership on both sides
of the fence that made things happen and has our game as successful as it’s ever been now. What advice do you give when you participate
in the symposium for the new players, what advice do you have to help ease their transition? I think the biggest thing as a new player
is first things first, focus on football, because if you’re not taking care of your
business on the football field you’re not going to be around very long. And then from
there I think learning to balance your finances and how you spend is big you hear the horror
stories of guys who have blown away fortunes, and some of that is not all their fault. You
have to wise in your decision making, you have to be careful, you have to do your due
diligence when it comes to certain things and I think that’s what try to encourage young
guys you know, when you leave this game you’d like to be able to have something to show
for it. We have a tremendous opportunity. It’s the best part time job you’ll ever have
as far as giving yourself a head start into life and your next career. Does the NFL provide benefits with respect
to financial education for players with respect to how they should invest, how they should
spend and how they should think about what happens after their days on the field are
over? No question. Again I’ll go back to our player
engagement director Kevin Anderson and what you do as a rookie is you have pretty much
meeting year round and these meeting educate you in a number of different fields but a
big one is finance field because it’s such a big issue for our young players. And they
have us speak with financial advisors, planners etc. as far as decision making when it comes
to your money. The NFL and the union have financial advisors that they have approved
of that they will refer to guys so they really do a great job of making sure that, you know
young men, we know this is a big responsibility upon you but we’re going to do everything
we can to help you be successful in managing those finances. If uh one of your players is having issues
or you become aware that they’re having issues is there advice you give them, or do you give
them direction or is there someone else that they can turn to with respect to whatever
it is they may be experiencing whether its finances or otherwise? I think it all depends on the situation and
your relationship with that player. Some guys you may sit down and talk to and kind of share
your experience, some guys you may refer to Kevin Anderson again and some of the players
and outlets that we have as far as our league so it just depends on who the guy is, what
the situation is. There are a number of different courses of actions that you can take when
those situations arise. If you had to experience the transition over
again, what would you do differently then you did in 2008 or 9 when you entered the
league? Uh, wow that’s a good question. I had to learn
the hard way to say no, i’ll go back to that. I really tried to do too much I think early
on I really um could have done a better job of balancing my priorities and deciding what
was important to me but some of that you have to learn through experience and I learned
that fortunately and I’ve been able to clean some of those areas up. Do you have safety or security issues for
your own family and those close to you that come as a result of being a professional football
player with the New England Patriots? You know fortunately I haven’t and we have
a great director of security here and whenever an issue arises we can run it by him. He’s
always available with sound advice and I know guys have had personal security when they’ve
gone out but fortunately I’ve never had an issue here in New England, I’ve never had
an issue back in my home town in Southern California and I think a lot of that comes
down to decision making, the people you hang around, the places you go, all that factors
into you being safe as an NFL player. Does social media play an additional risk
that didn’t take place during your dad’s time that you have to be especially aware of, the
dangers and risks that are attached to that? No question. I think a whole different set
of problems come along with the social media. Obviously they can be used for great things,
for getting a positive message out there, for promoting your brand but I think you have
to be really cautious about what you put out there what information you give. Me personally
I don’t have any social media but I know that a lot of my teammates do and it’s all how
you use it. It can be used to do as I said great things but you just have to be sound
in your decision making when it comes to that. What services does the NFL provide for players
to start to think about the transition from being a professional football player to the
next decade of their life and their professional career? Well there are a number of programs that they
have during the off season where you can intern or job shadow, I think you mentioned earlier
broadcast bootcamp and there are a number of programs where you can continue your education.
They have continuing education programs that they offer at Harvard and Stanford where you
can go in there for a period of time and take some advanced courses. So they always are
operating within a long term vision understanding that the average NFL career is only 3.1 years
you have to be ready to transition at any point. I think they do a good job of having
those resources there for us, allowing us to get some unique experience as far as the
job shadowing and things like that and operating with they thought of hey, I’m only going to
be doing this for a short period of time, i’ve got to be ready to move on at some point. I saw a music boot camp a hollywood boot camp
a franchise boot camp, the ones you mentioned as well. What’s the next chapter of Matthew
Slater’s life when football’s over? I’ve always had a passion for ministry I’ve
always enjoyed working with the young people and I think I’d like to be involved in full
time ministry in some capacity whether its with young people or its counseling or whatnot,
that’s something that I really hold dear, my faith, and thats kind of the filter through
which I make all my decisions so hopefully lord willing I play a few more years before
I have to make that decision but that’s what I think I want to do after football’s over
with. That’s amazing. That’s fantastic. Congratulations.
Thank you very much. So, are you going to stay in this area? Will
you return to Southern California or where would you likely do that type of work? You know that remains to be seen, you know
I’ve really grown fond of this area, being here six years now. I didn’t think I’d ever
say that with the weather the way it is but I’ve been able to have some great relationships
and meet some really great people out here, so we’ll see. When you’re ready to make a difference in
the world, one law school can make a difference for you, The Massachusetts School of Law is
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you. Visit us today at MSLaw.edu. As you may think there aren’t a lot of women
involved in the NFL. Yes I know you know about the cheerleaders who work enormously hard
to promote the NFL. Our trial team members met some of the Patriots cheerleaders at the
airport in San Francisco while the cheerleaders were on their way to China to promote the
Patriots and the NFL brand. But what about the women who work behind the scenes? One
of those talented women is attorney Deana Garner. She was a prosecutor in Indianapolis
Indiana, worked with the NCAA for many years and then moved to the NFL security office.
Deana now works in the player engagement office of the NFL. How do they help the plays? So we’re a service department. So we assist
these young men with their entire experience whether they are at the high school level
and understanding fundamentals we have camps and clinics we also have leadership development
programs to assist not only football student athletes, but also athletes um at the high
school and collegiate level in becoming good people and being leaders and using their athleticism
plus their academics to be successful in life because I do believe that sports can assist
people in a lot of ways in being better prepared for the hardships that life you might have
to face and when you play team sports it definitely helps when you are able to be a part of a
team so through our department we try to make sure that the young people’s experience and
then those who can and do make it to the NFL, that it’s seamless, that they have great information
prior to coming and then while they’re in the National Football League as active NFL
players they understand the breadth of what is available to them in the way of resources
and services so that they can successfully transition. And then for former players or
legends we still assist them because they are still part of the family. so we went to
make sure that their journey and their transition is as fulfilling as it can be. Lets talk about the different educational
services because I wasn’t aware that at the high school and college level the NFL does
provide educational services and not just to the male athletes but to the females as
well. What services do they provide to that audience? Sure, so we have a few programs. Our prep
platform is where we really concentrate our outreach efforts on high school and college
leadership development. We have a program called the leadership prep 100 series which
is basically a one day, half day clinic, football skills and drills the target audience is high
school football student athletes they’re mostly all male student athletes. And then the other
half of the time of that particular program is spent in the classroom with them, their
parents and their athletic administrators or coaches and explaining to them and partnering
with the National Collegiate Athletic Association so that they understand the initial eligibility
rules and requirements so that they can become academically successful as well as being able
to still participate in sport as a student athlete while in college. And then we have
former players and active player engagement directors and active players who participate
on a panel to talk with about leadership and to talk to them about transition and it’s
never too early in our realm that we work in, we feel that it’s never too early to understand
that transition applies to various aspects of your life so it’s very appropriate for
us to give that type of transition discussion to not only the student athletes but also
their parents and their guardians and the administrators. And then we have other programs
for high school student athletes that address a cross specter of people and we have females
that are involved in that and we have a one day program called a career in sports exposition
and thats a one day program that we have around the draft and the super bowl, where we show
and expose the young people that participate in the geographic region where the draft or
the super bowl is being hosted so we work with a non-profit agency to basically canvas
the area where the event is going to take place and we have a series of panels where
we have active and former players as well as other athletics administrators from the
college side to the professional side and really the goal is to expose these young people
while they’re still in high school about the opportunities that sports will afford people
so that they’re not just locked in oh you know I want to be in the NBA you know I want
to go to school one year and then I want to be in the NBA or I want to come into the NFL
and they are only focused on playing when in actuality they don’t probably have much
of a frame of reference about what is all involved in sports. And so it’s been really
interesting. The NFL prep focuses on six core areas. Academic
excellence, right financial literacy, character development, conflict resolution, communication
and health safety and wellness. Yes. And that extends both for the students in high school
and college then the new entrants into the NFL and then even as folks start to transition
into their next career, that is correct
The NFL provides education in all those areas to all those different groups.
correct As well as to the spouses and significant
others for active players and former players. We have what we call transition assistance
programs for former players or the legends where we really assist them with you know
you’re not just physically transitioning off the field into main stream live, but you’re
transitioning in all aspects of that so we work with them, and have people who are experts
in dealing with the physical the emotional psychological the full specter of everything
that you experience as you transition from one field of life into the next and we also
feel its very important because most of these men are mature at that time and we feel that
it is very important for their significant others to be a part of that process so spouses
are also invited to partake of those programs that we have available. How frequently do players and their spouses
and significant others take advantage of the service? I’d say often but certainly not as often as
I mean I can’t tell you that 100 percent is achieved but we certainly have great made
some great inroads and I think it’s in part, I know it’s in part because of the staff,
again our department is a service department. And also the fact that the league is committed
so we have five former players that actually work in the department and work in various
aspects of the league which is extremely helpful because they have a core network of their
piers that they communicate with on a regular basis many of whom have already transitioned
who may not call me and say hey Deana I have some concerns about you know the transition
issue that I’m dealing with but they may call James Thrash or they may call Dwight Hollier
they may call David Tyree, they may call Patrick Kerney or often times they call Troy Vincent.
So it’s wonderful to have these former, or Legends I work alongside with that are funneling
the communications so that we can assist these people and these men and their families as
they go through life. And because of their fame and perceived fortune
they’re relatively easy targets for those who would want to prey on right people who
would try and take advantage of them what services does the NFL provide to try and help
make sure that they are aware of the dangers of their status? Sure. We have some wonderful programs. Our
security department is bar none a phenomenal group of people and they are dedicated to
making sure that not only are the players, but the players and their families are well
taken care of and cared for and if they’re going to invest a dollar in hiring a nanny
or a contractor or investing any money we go out and we communicate with them. When
I say we our department as well as the security department talks to all 32 clubs we talk to
the players we talk to the coaches we talk to the administration to let them know about
the robust services. So basically the spectrum of the services entails business background
checks, due diligence background checks home security surveys where the security professional
will come to your residence and will do an assessment of what the structure that you
have should look like from a security perspective and then gives you basically all this information
in writing and then it’s up to you as the home owner to determine what you feel most
comfortable with but that whole assessment is free of charge. All the security services
that are offered from the NFL are free of charge because we care and because the league
cares and is committed to making sure that as you said the men and their families are
not preyed upon. We have robust services that assist players
and club personnel key club personnel including coaches and their families especially during
the off season so when they’re not in the building as we are today and they’re traveling
with their families if they are going to go outside of the United States we have international
security travel assistance where we can give the state department alerts we can give contacts
in a different venue so that people will know before players or the head coach is going
to be traveling to a specific venue in the event that something happens then they have
already had those pre-checks communicated in an effective way. We also have programs
where we assist our players as well as club personnel with social media. And the NFL rules with respect to how much
before games and the like that players can interact with social media as well. yes that’s correct. There is a whole social
media component that is communicated to the players to their family by our PR department.
And every year there is a presentation that is then put together in a video that’s sent
out to all 32 teams and then there’s mandatory communications training that the pr department
reps communicate to the players and work with them in a proactive way and explain to them
here’s how you can work very cooperatively with the media, here’s how you can be mindful
of your communications style as well as your obligation and make sure you’re meeting your
obligation then just be careful of some of these other areas of concern so they’ll work
directly with players offline as well as well as work directly with them as it relates to
their specific responsibilities. So since the career of and NFL player is a
relatively short one as a professional football player how does the NFL help players transition
to the next part of their professional life? Well while they’re actively playing we have
a series of mandatory programs as well as other programs to assist with the transition
so the first i’ll just start with the mandatory. So we for the drafter players every June we
have what we call the Rookie Symposium and its for all of the drafted rookies to attend
and it’s basically a three and half day life skills summit where there are different panel
discussions about policy, players who lost their money, players who had some challenges
transitioning, players who have successfully transitioned and we feel as though our model
is using peer to peer communication because you can live it you can see it when the person
who is communicating with you has experiences what you are already experiencing maybe not
to the same level and then we partner that with other obviously professionals who might
not be players. And then during the off season there are mandatory programs that the security
program goes out and communicates to the teams to the full teams of players as well as coaches
and other administrators. And then during the season there are mandatory programs for
the rookies they’re nine week continuation of life skills training to assist them in
acclimatizing them to you’re not in college you are now a professional. As a professional
there are new programs that you mr new professional need to be aware of so assisting them with
financial wellness and safety as well as what you might think is a bit mundane so you have
a person who maybe is from the west coast that now is going to be a player with the
New England patriots some things that we have built into the programming like helping this
young man understand you have to get your drivers license changed over because you’re
working now. You’re living in another state that requires you to be to have a registered
drivers license if you are driving a vehicle. Making sure that they understand with how
to deal with differences in climate and how to fix your car. And then there are other
programs on your personal relationships and how to have healthy relationships and what
an unhealthy relationship might look like. And then how to activate the services how
to understand how to work with a person like Kevin Anderson whose the director of player
engagement. What his function is explaining all that to them as part of this curricula
and then for the players who are more veteran or senior we have professional development
so there is a professional development opportunity that is required. Some teams have others that
are not mandatory but because the players are interested and want to participate and
sometimes those might look like player former player panels and maybe former players who’ve
transitioned well, former players who have not transitioned well and allowing for the
active veterans as well as the younger players to really communicate back and forth with
them about what were the stumbling blocks that you had. How did you overcome them. How
were you able to be successful. How do you build a resume. So we talk about a lot of
different things that sometimes people like yourself and myself since we’re lawyers we
would have already built our resume when we were in college then going into law school.
For a lot of our players they’re learning while they’re on the job because the average
age is 22 coming into the national football league. We also work with Lee Hecht Harrison
and they assist players with resume building as well as interviewing skills and techniques
and how to present themselves when they’re working with say a fortune 500 company. Because
often times the players they’re transitioning from college into a professional environment
maybe not have had those types of experiences on a regular basis so the whole concept of
how to communicate effectively when you are talking to an owner of a Fortune 500 company
is not something that they are going to have received in a class. Now uh we know often times players will go
into broadcasting. What are other fields in law or medicine, politics do players go into
as well? The Full spectrum I there was one young man
who currently plays now who during his off season so during february march april he wants
to own his own franchise so he worked at a store a shoe store because he wanted to learn
the business from the ground up. So we have the full spectrum of interests just like anybody
else we’ve got architects we’ve got people in the music industry we have people that
love to cook that also happen to love to play football we have artists we have performers
I mean the full spectrum. For 25 years Massachusetts School of Law has
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making friends it was becoming a part of the family that makes it very difficult to leave.
I don’t want to leave MSL. We didn’t want to leave MSL Evah. Best decision ever. We
love MSL. We don’t want to leave. The Massachusetts school of law. Great lawyers, better people.
Come visit us today at mslaw.edu. Geez get some glasses ref. Yes the job looks
real easy from where we sit but how do this guys, and for now, it’s just guys, get started.
Dean Blandino started out as an intern in 1994 for the NFL officiating department right
out of college. In 2013 he became vice-president of officiating. Here’s Dean Blandino. We have an extensive scouting program. We
have regional scouts all over the country and we actually go out and we scout lower
level games, high school games lower level college games and we recruit younger officials
and we bring them into our scouting program. Once they’re in our program then we monitor
their progress and we have what we call an advanced development program and so once those
officials get to a certain point where we feel that they are ready to take the next
step we bring them into that program. They actually work NFL pre-season games they go
to training camp off season training activities things like that so we can get a closer look
at them and they can get a feel for what NFL officiating is about the speed of the game
the rules of the game and we have a group of 21 officials that are in our advanced development
program and thats the group that we when we have openings in the league pull from that
group to go into the NFL. In the officials that you are scouting, is
there women among them because after all we women, we buy your apparel we watch your game
and we’re not likely to play on your field. Absolutely we have several women in our pipeline.
We have a lot of women that are officiating football and we have several that are moving
to the top level we have one, Sarah Thomas who is in our advanced development program.
She’s a college official right now in conference USA , so she’s at the top of our scouting
program so Sarah if she continues to develop will have a pretty good chance of getting
into the NFL pretty soon. So we do have a lot of female officials and that’s an initiative
to try and go out and find women that are interested in football and hey maybe officiating
could be a good path I would love to see that so congratulations
on that. Discuss officiating a sunday game. What is
that like? Well officiating the sunday game I think if
you asked any of our officials the three hours from kick-off to the end of the game are that’s
the best part of what they do there is so much other stuff in preparation and the training
and the film study but those three hours it’s like that’s their sanctuary and there’s a
lot going on there’s a lot of stuff that they have to manage not just between the whistles
but with TV with game operations and all of that stuff so it kind of comes together. There’s
a lot of preparation but those three hours that’s the fun part.
How do you attempt to ensure consistency among calls? Consistency, that’s the magic word. That’s
if you talk to coaches players fans we all want consistency from game to game from official
to official from crew to crew. So it’s through communication film study and really what we
do our overall evaluation, evaluation process and it starts here in this office. And so
if we’re consistent with how we evaluate our officials then they will go out and hopefully
officiate the game consistently. So there’s a lot of things that go into it but thats
how my main goal is certainly consistency because we’re going to make mistakes, it happens
but we have to be able to learn from those mistakes and make sure we don’t repeat them. Discuss if you would ethnic diversity in officiating
and how that might contribute to at least perceived consistency if not in fact real
consistency. Sure so ethnic diversity is a core value of
the NFL and is something that we take very seriously in officiating so we’re always looking
for officials from diverse backgrounds and so we have a lot of candidates coming through
the ranks whether its minority officials that we try to train and bring into the league
when their ready. Now we want it’s a balance we want the best officials but we also want
a diverse group of official. Um I don’t think there’s any difference in terms of or perceived
difference in terms of performance um in that within that group I think its something we
look at our entire staff of our 119 officials and when we’re talking about consistency we
want them to officiate to the same level we want them to officiate under the same guidelines
so I really don’t think there is a perceived or real difference in consistency but diversity
is very important to us and one of our priorities. Oh thats wonderful to hear. Besides the players
and coaches officials are your most visible people on the field. Do they tend to develop
big egos and if so how do you deal with that? Thats a great question. We have actually where
we run into that a little bit is with our referees so head referees cuz they are the
face of the crew they’re making the announcements so most of our referees are great everyone
has a little bit of an ego you get to that point you’re a successful person you probably
have a little bit of an ego but officiating, the best officials are neither seen nor heard.
The best officiated games is when you don’t even realize they’re out there. So we certainly
have that balance. We want officials to be ambassadors for the league and that’s important
so when they’re out there they put their best foot forward and present well but we also
don’t want them to be center of attention because if officiating is the center of attention
that’s not a good thing. We are here as you alluded to in your beautiful
NFL command center here in New York. Much different then I would have anticipated. Look
at all these chairs and tv’s . Explain what goes on here on Sunday. Yeah, this is this is really the nerve center
of the NFL on Sundays. So we’re monitoring every game that’s going on. We’re watching
the tv broadcasts. We’re listening in to the announcers. I’m here and I can monitor all
the different games I can get a heads up on what’s happening if there’s a controversial
play if there is a significant injury if there’s something that i know I’m going to have to
address during the week I’ve already got a leg up because I’ve seen it happen live and
I can start to gather the information. We have two way communication with the networks
so if the announcers are saying something and maybe they are misinterpreting a rule
I can get on the phone and communicate directly with the tv network to explain to them the
proper interpretation and they can hopefully correct themselves on the air.
One of the things that I would imagine presents a real problem for you is people now sitting
in their living rooms on the couch with their high definition TVs they have a great view
of the game so they think they can make the calls right there from their living rooms.
So is that some of the reason instant replay came about and how do you deal with the home
quarterback and the home official? Absolutely so technology has certainly driven
a lot of what we’ve done in officiating. As technology gets better the bar raises and
so you have the home experience is so much better than it was 20 years ago sure high
definition and multiple angles and all the analysis that they’re getting and so the scrutiny
on officiating is that much more we have to keep up with that so certainly with the advent
of instant replay we’re trying to stay on the cutting edge of technology and we’re trying
to get the calls right and we’re going to use technology to do that and thats why our
replay system has advanced to where it is where we’re using high def technology we’re
using multiple angles sure so we’re trying to have the fan at home see the same thing
that the officials are seeing under the hood so that we can both come to the same concluding
and hopefully thats the right conclusion. And if there ultimately is some call that
tends to be controversial and is picked up by the news media um how do you communicate
what’s gone on behind the scenes to the media and to the public. Sure well the first thing and we’ve really
taken a stance on being transparent is if there’s a mistake that’s made we wan tot step
up and be accountable for that but we also want to educate in term of well heres the
rule here’s what the official is looking at here’s what his perspective is and then explain
if it is a mistake here’s why. Here’s why the error occurred here’s what should have
happened. So we analyze everything and then the big thing is coming out and saying we
did make a mistake here’s why and try to educate people as to the entire process because its
very easy to sit after the fact and analyze the different angles and say well that was
an incorrect call but in the moment the official he has one look at it full speed it happens
very quickly and he has to make a decisions so sometimes mistakes happen and we want to
be accountable when they do. What are some of the major misconceptions
that the general public has about instant replay? I think the biggest one is that the referee
has different angles than what everybody’s seeing at home ok and it was really important
when we put the system in to say we don’t want to make decisions based on angles that
everybody at home doesn’t see. And so we’re looking at the same information so that we
don’t have a situation where we make a decision and everyone at home is wondering why. We
took it a step further last year where we actually show the under the hood feed the
angles that the referee’s looking at we show that in the stadium during the review so that
fans in the stadium can actually see why the decision is made so that’s the biggest misconception
that we have secret angles or cameras hidden somewhere, its all the network cameras and
its all the stuff that’s going out over the air to the people at home. Several coaches went on the field during the
season last years which I understand is a violation of the rules. How do you sanction
those coaches, do you sanction the coaches. Yeah well we do we work with the coaches every
week. Our crews work with the teams to say the sidelines the white area that’s for the
game officials and the coaches need to stay out of that every team has what’s called a
get back coach and that get back coach is a coach that’s responsible that I’m going
to go to the get back coach and say hey coach you have to get everybody back and he’s responsible
for then communicating that to the team and the coaches so when they do if something happens
where a coach or a player gets on to the field and interferes with the play there’s a penalty
that can be assessed which is called a palpably unfair act there can be potential discipline
in terms of fines to the coach or the team so thats something we address on a case by
case basis when it happens which is very rare but it has happened. For a whole month during the season we see
some of the biggest baddest dudes out there dressed in pink. How did that come about? Well I think it’s an initiative, the NFLhas
several initiatives the NFL has several initiatives the breast cancer awareness, salute to service
and so I think it’s just a natural fit it’s such a great cause and its so visible with
the pink its so visible we had our officials decked out in pink we had pink whistles pink
flags last year so there are a lot of initiatives like that great causes that the NFL takes
a part in and that’s one of them. And it’s real important the work you do you
support a lot of causes absolutely and as a member of the public we applaud the NFL
for your high morals and for doing things like that it’s a wonderful thing. This past January in Forbes magazine a contributor
wrote an article entitled 28 years of getting it wrong. Is the NFL really getting it mostly
right and some of them getting it wrong? Whenever you notice officiating its when there’s
a mistake and thats why, that’s why the profile is so much higher now and so when there’s
a good call people really don’t talk about it and when you look at our overall percentage
of accuracy it’s been the last couple of years about 98% . If you’re 98% good at something
that you do thats pretty good. That’s pretty darn good. But when we do make a mistake people
will harp on it so I think we are getting it right. I think there’s room for improvement
and consistency is an area that we’re going to continue to work on but I would disagree
with that. One of the things the article talks about
was the western championship game and again I think it’s fans don’t really understand
which plays are and which plays are not reviewable. So I wonder if in fact you might take a few
minutes and tell us just briefly what plays can’t be reviewed like in that particular
case you had a player at the goal line and there was a controversy over that but that
wasn’t reviewable. It wasn’t reviewable that was the uh a fumble
was ruled on the field and who recovered that fumble was not a reviewable play was not a
reviewable play at that time that rule has since proposed to be changed to make it reviewable
play. Oh wow. In the institution of replay the competition committee felt that we wanted
to deal in fact not not a subjective call so did the ball hit the ground did the foot
touch the sideline was the knee down. Not whether is that enough restriction for holding
so what’s reviewable is things that involve possession of the football the boundary lines
the side lines the goal line the end line but when you are talking about pure subjective
calls something like holding, pass interference those are not reviewable. some fans prefer that an official make the
call because they like the thrill of error. Is that something you folks considered? I think that’s something that we have seen.
That’s feedback that we have because in the original replay system it was the official
up in the booth that was making the decision and you really didn’t know who that person
was so when we put replay back in it was important to say no here’s the referee he’s in charge
of the crew he’s going to make this decision so it gives it a credibility factor to the
entire process. That is important and we have heard that. Have you considered going to a more centralized
call similar to the NHL? We’re looking at that. We’re looking at the
feasibility of that we feel that that has some merit in terms of consistency in standardizing
the decision making process so thats in the working mode right now we’re not sure if we’re
going to head that direction but its something we’re considering What is the most rewarding part of your job
personally? I think personally it doesn’t happen very
often when you do get a call and say hey the crew worked a really good game and we’re in
officiating we’re responsible for upholding the integrity of the game making sure the
game is played fairly the outcome is decided fairly and that the players are safe that
the game is safe for the players and so that’s rewarding when you have a little part of that
you can say hey I’ve got a little part of making sure the game is played fairly and
played safely. That’s the most rewarding part for me. I wonder if you might comment on the recent
settlement between the league and the players association and how head injuries are going
to be dealt with going forward and how does that impact officiating? Well in officiating we really didn’t have
anything to do with the settlement but our job in officiating and this goes back to as
long as there’ve been game officials we’re the first responders on the field and it’s
really important and we’ve really harped with our game officials to understand that if we
see a player under stress, a player that could be potentially injured whether it’s a potential
head injury or any body part that we need to stop the game and get that player attention
so that’s been the direction that’s been the directive to our game officials and we’re
very we feel very strongly about that that hey regardless of the situation in the game
if there’s a player that has been injured or potentially injured we need to stop the
game and get that player get that player attended to so that’s where we come in in that process. How are you going to deal with racial slurs
on the field going forward? Well I think we have, our current rule covers
any language thats abusive threatening or insulting so that would include anything of
a racial nature a sexual orientation nature ok so our current rules cover that and when
it’s in an aggressive insulting manner that’s when officials are empowered to throw flags
for taunting and unsportsmanlike so there’s really no change it’s going to be a point
of emphasis and we’re going to were going to when it is used in that manner it will
result in a flag. What changes do you forecast for the next
ten years in the NFL as it pertains to officiating? I think we’re going to look at using technology
to to enhance performance next year we’re going to go to an official to official communication
system where all the officials on a crew can communicate wirelessly in a closed network
so now oh if I’m thirty yards away I don’t have to use hand signals or run over to you
we can communicate and I think that will really help us so I think we’re going to use technology
whether its on a field whether it’s in replay or in this room in our evaluation process
I think that’s something thats going to change as we look to make enhancements. Massachusetts School of Law, legal education
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students to become successful lawyers and advocates, not just legal scholars. Do you know who the first African american
referee in the NFL was? You will. He was and NFL official for 23 years. I was raised in Washington DC and part of
the physical ed curriculum in 8th grade was basketball officiating. So I started there
and I was the manager of the basketball team, manager being the person who normally handles
all of the equipment and also i was responsible for the official score but at the same time
I was being taught how to officiate basketball and I kind of handled all the scrimmages for
the basketball team. I went from junior high to high school and there I was also the manager
for the basketball team and I again worked all the scrimmages for the basketball team
so when I graduated from high school I went into the air force and I went to join the
local group in shreveport louisiana as a basketball official and at that time they were short
football officials so guy talked me into doing it and I went from there, I started I worked
my first high school football game at age 18 which is not normal that’s not normal and
then my first college game I worked when I was 22 again not normal and from there I just
kind of went from there. Got lucky. Incredible story. Well I think it was more
than luck. My next question is you spent 23 years as an official in the NFL and you were
the first black referee as I understand it. Tell us about how that transition happened. Well when I first came into the league each
year at our clinic in Dallas they always asked if you had an opportunity to change positions,
what position would you like to change to. And I always filled out the card referee.
Number one to me it’s the easiest position on the field you just babysit a quarterback
and then in 1980 I believe it was 1988 Art Magnali who was the supervisor at that time
called me and asked me if I was ready to make the move and I jumped at it yes indeed. So
we went from there. Who were some of your early mentors and share
with any conversation or guidance they provided you along the way. When I came back to DC after leaving the air
force I guy named Tom Beard took me under his wing and kind of guided me, made sure
I stayed on the straight and narrow as far as college college officiating is concerned.
When i came in was accepted into the league in 1981 I was put on Jim Tunney’s crew for
the first four years and that’s one of the best things that could have happened to me
because at that time he was the premiere referee in the league. He was ex-superintendant of
schools in Los Angeles he’s a motivational speaker so I kind of picked up a lot of things
from him and my temperament and his temperament kind of meshed and then after the four years
with Jim I was with Dick Jorgensen again his temperament was similar to Jim’s, he was a
bank president so you know straight and narrow there too. We hope. Oh yeah. No shenanigans there. And
those two just kind of set the way I like to run a crew. The weren’t overbearing everybody
knew they were in charge without without showing it. Without being overbearing? Yes, Yes. That’s
a nice way of putting it yes. How diverse is officiating today? Well when I first came to the league I think
we had uh nine black officials and I took a look at the roster this morning we’ve got
33. Wow black officials now oh that’s great news You are recognized as a very important historical
figure how do you wish to be remembered in history? I’d like to be remembered by my cohorts as
someone they’d want to walk on the field with on sunday afternoon. Now history I can’t deal
with that uh somebody had to be first. And it was wonderful that it was you because
you are a terrific role model. Thank you. What are the risks of injure to officials. The biggest one is getting run over, getting
too close to a payer. Not recognizing when it’s time to back away. We get a lot of guys
who get their knees wiped out. The other things are just minor, tears, stretches, those kind
of nagging injuries but the biggest thing is the knees and the legs. Getting too close
to the play getting rolled up on on the sidelines trying to back out and you back out into your
chain crew and they now they’re in your way. Now you got hurt officiating is that correct
or was it off the field? No it was a crazy situation we were up in
what was in New England, Buffalo I’m just a long pass downfield and I’m just jogging
down the field and I felt something, didn’t know what it was went down now we’re coming
back the other way i again just trotting up the field and snapped my del what is it deltoid
ligament in my ankle so and they had to do reconstruction surgery oh my did you have
to get carried off the field well I was able to walk off the field I sat on the sideline
for a while and Scott green and he came over and said hey man I need your white hat. Different question what position do you occupy
now and are you in a position and are you in a position where you can still effectuate
positive change within the NFL. We have four regional supervisors in the NFL
office and I’m the north east regional supervisor. I’m responsible for the Redskins the Ravens,
Philadelphia the Jets Giants and Buffalo. Not our beloved Patriots? Oh I’m sorry yes New England I forgot New
England Don’t forget us. Explain the milestones that have occurred
within the NFL with respect to race relations. Milestones the well the one that I remember
right off hand was 1965 when Burl Toler became the first black official in the league. Then we had and I was lucky to be a part of
this so 1988 washington denver doug williams the first black in the Super Bowl I was hoping
you would tell that story. What is it like to officiate in the Super
Bowl. Once you realize you’ve gotten the assignment
it kind of takes on the shape of any other game – at least it did for me. You’ve got
to stay focused that’s the same one thing. How does one stay focused when you have players
in your face you might have management of coaches in your face questioning calls and
your goal has to be to stay cool and focused how do you do that? Well that’s why you don’t just come straight
from high school to the NFL it takes a awhile to get to that point. It’s just training its
just like any other job you get used to it. You’re starting out with Pop Warner where
the only people there bothering you are the parents and then you go to high school and
now you have the players and the coaches involved and then college it becomes more coaches than
anyone else. You get used to it, it’s just like being a policeman. Number one you know
you’re not going to please everyone on every call can I say this you’re going to piss somebody
50% of the time you’re going to piss somebody off. And that’s just the way it is. That goes
with the territory. The NFL is a major successful business. In
my opinion it’s one with a moral compass discuss who that either helps the game or hinders
the game. One thing that we strive is to have integrity
among the officials by them being graded every play of every game we want to keep any appearance
of any impropriety out of it. You can tell when a person is, well, since I’ve never had
this problem as far as 34 years I’ve been in the league I don’t remember having it when
somebody is cheating and if you are graded every play somebody is looking over your shoulder
on every play it’s kind of hard to do that because tendencies will start to come out. Who grades and who review the officials? We have the four regional supervisors and
we have four associate supervisors who grade every game every play. Are their penalties for missed calls or bad
performance? Well that’s when you don’t go to the playoffs.
right ok that’s the penalty that’s the end result and poor calls over an extend period
of time will get you released. Officials are on year to year contracts. What advice do you have for aspiring young
children who dream of being an official in the NFL? Even at the young age, nobody ever thinks
about being an official so when I go out and talk to high school kids, younger kids, I
tell them there is an opportunity to stay close to the game because even players I just
came up from a camp we’re having down in Baltimore we’ve got 25 ex-players there we’re exposing
them to officiating this weekend they all of them, each to a man said they never thought
about officiating when they were players all they wanted to do was curse at us. And this
weekend we are exposing them to officiating to see whether or not this is something they
want to do and if it is something they want to do we’re going to help them in their local
areas get attached to their local high school groups and hopefully they can go from there.
But normally kids don’t think about officiating they want to be players.
Sure they do. Except their parents don’t want them to play
football because they’re worried about them Well it’s good when parents are there when
we’re talking to them because we talk to the parents and tell them there’s a way to stay
close the football game without being a player and getting hurt. In 1988 Grier officiated in super bowl twenty
two which was his last game as a field judge. It was the same game in which super bowl MVP
Doug Williams became the first African American quarterback to lead his team to victory in
the Super Bowl. Well that’s it from here. Now let the games
begin. Thanks to the NFL, the Patriots and everyone for participating. Thank you for
joining us. We hope you learned a few things. Never stop learning.

Author Since: Mar 11, 2019

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