Discovering Vision Therapy Blog

Do NFL Officials Need a Functional Vision Test?

Posted by Greg Mischio

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It’s been many weeks since the Inaccurate Reception, aka the botched call in the Green Bay Packers –Seattle Seahawks football game.  But as the season draws to a close and the Packers are in a tight battle for the division race, the implications of that call loom large.  The issue here goes far beyond replacement refs and instant reply, however.  We think the discussion should be placed on testing an official’s functional vision.

Any sports fan will tell you that botched calls occur all the time, even with instant replay.  The reason why this happens may not be due to a lack of competence but rather how officials uses their vision to make a call during moments of stress.

First, understand that a person with 20/20 eyesight can still have a functional vision problem.  The term “20/20” is merely a measure of an eye’s ability to see an object clearly at a distance. It is likely that most NFL officials have 20/20 vision, and we would certainly like to check, but a functional vision problem is more likely to be the culprit.

Functional vision includes how the entire visual system operates.  The visual system includes the eyes, the brain, and the visual pathways, and is responsible for such visual skills as peripheral vision, eye-tracking, and depth perception.

According to Dr. Kellye Knueppel of The Vision Therapy Center, there are many ways a functional vision problem could have affected the official’s call.  She offered up examples that included:

He could have poor depth perception.  In a normally-functioning visual system, the brain combines two images from the eye into one 3D image.  A binocular vision problem can impair the brain’s ability to combine the images.  As a result, a person only sees in one-dimension.  Without the ability to effectively judge depth, the official might have difficulty getting into proper position on the field and/or looking in the correct place to view the play properly.

He might have difficulty changing fixation quickly and accurately.   If the official cannot change his visual fixation quickly and accurately during the play, he may miss the part of the play he is supposed to be watching. In addition, sometimes officials follow the flight of the ball when they are supposed to be looking at what the players are doing. This could lead to an incorrect call.

He may have lost his ability to use his peripheral vision well due to stress.  When we experience stress, we typically lose the ability to pay attention to our peripheral vision.  This explains how the obvious offensive pass interference on The Inaccurate Reception, in which Golden Tate shoved Sam Shields to the ground, was missed.  The official knew that the play was very important, and most likely was looking at the incorrect place for the play (probably at the ball). In any case, he clearly was not using his peripheral vision correctly and so missed the obvious pass interference.

His brain had already determined what he was going to see.  Vision actually begins in the brain, and the official may have already had a pre-determined thought of what he was going to see.  Thus, the brain can overrule what the eyes actually saw– which may be why, even for days after the game, the official stood by what he saw.  Or more accurately, what he “thought” he saw.

There are a number of other functional vision problems that could have affected the call.  He could even have an eye pathology that affected his vision.  But how would we know, unless the official had a Functional Vision Test?

Free Functional Vision Testing for NFL Refs

A Functional Vision Test, which is more extensive than a typical visioning screening, can help determine if these types of issues exist.  Does the NFL mandate this type of vision testing for its refs – replacement or otherwise?  

More importantly, would they be willing to mandate it now?

If they did, Dr. Kellye Knueppel and The Vision Therapy Center would be happy to offer a full Functional Vision Test to any and all NFL officials and referees – FREE OF CHARGE.

Why do we bring this up?  Dr. Knueppel is an avid Packers fan, but is it really worth this amount of time and potential expense to make such an offer?

If it heightens public awareness of functional vision problems, the answer is yes.  

If parents, teachers and doctors can make the connection that the same issues that affect NFL refs are also undiagnosed in our schools, where 1 in 4 children has an undiagnosed vision problem, the answer is yes.

If the message reaches the parents of the 5% of children in Wisconsin (that’s 66,000) who suffer from common functional vision problems – strabismus and amblyopia – the answer is yes.

Your role in this to not get angry about the refs, but to follow the lead of guard T.J. Lang of the Packers after that Packers game.  He knew that if he could inspire a groundswell of protest through his Twitter account, the NFL would take action.

He let his voice be heard.  Now it’s your turn to do the same.  Post a link to this article on your Facebook page.  Tweet it to your friends.  Email it to a favorite sports reporter, and more importantly, your friends and family.

We want to preserve the integrity of the game.  But more importantly, we want to preserve the future success of children with functional vision problems.

Please.  Help us open some eyes.


Photo by: Brandon Giesbrecht

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Topics: Functional Vision