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Doctors speak to NFL teams about player health, safety following lockout
NEW YORK (AP) ' NFL doctors and experts in heat-related illnesses have spoken with each team this week. The message, delivered loud and clear: practice caution.
These mandatory conference calls assume greater importance because of the 4 -month lockout that ended Monday. Offseason workouts and minicamps were eliminated by the work stoppage.
"We don't know where these people are coming from, and normally they would be in their team's facility for four months training," said Dr. Douglas J. Casa, kinesiology professor at the University of Connecticut and chief scientist at the Korey Stringer Institute. "You might have a player going to Houston and he has been training in a more northern climate.
"We were trying to reiterate the most basic and important concerns when someone is exercising in heat. The real primal things: exercise in the heat, getting ready to handle it, the basic precatuons, what are you looking for if there is a problem."
Stringer, an offensive lineman for the Vikings, died at 27 in August 2001 of exertional heat stroke. The institute, established in 2010, operates independently but has a working relationship with the NFL.
Also participating in the calls with the 32 teams were NFL doctors Hunt Batjer and Richard Ellenbogen, who primarily addressed head injuries. Dr. Margaret Kolka, former head of the Army's environmental medicine division, and Casa spoke about heat-related injuries.
Casa emphasized the critical nature of monitoring players in their first five days of strenuous activities at training camps, which began opening Wednesday. Those players are not "heat-acclimatized" and are far more vulnerable to significant problems.
"It is a hyper-concern right now and being more cautious is essential," said Casa, stressing that the phone calls were not done to "scare people."
"We have no idea on the physical shape of these people," he added. "Some teams could have half the people there that are new faces. General managers and coaches are worrying about signing players, and players are worrying about learning the playbook. Sometimes you must take a step back and safety has to come first."
Doctors and trainers always emphasize hydration and rapid cooling during rigorous workouts. Will players, particularly fringe ones trying to make an early impression, heed the danger signs and not push themselves too far?
That has been a problem more on the youth level than in college or the pros, Casa noted.
"Think about it: Why do people not die from heat stroke all through America in the hottest days? We back off on the intensity," he said. "But (heat strokes) happen at football practices in high schools because a kid is trying to make a team, or he is pushed by coaches, or the kids don't want to show they can't keep up. In those situations, they override normal responses to protect ourselves."