NFL Players Association chief Gene Upshaw said yesterday that the sport's leaders will review details of the circumstances that led to last weekend's death of San Francisco 49ers offensive lineman Thomas Herrion after a preseason game in Denver, but he doesn't think there's much, if anything, more that the league can do to protect the health and safety of its players.
"We'll take a look at it," Upshaw said in a telephone interview. "We'll look at every aspect of it and how it happened. But we have to let the medical people determine what happened. The main thing I wanted to make sure of was that we did all we could do from a medical point of view, from a trauma-care point of view, and we did that. You can't always save a life. But we can make sure everything is in place so that there is the best chance humanly possible to save a life, and that's what we have done. I don't know what more we could do. All you can do is have the people in place to deal with situations like that, and we had that."
For the past two years, Upshaw said, the league has required a trauma-care doctor to be at every game.
Herrion, a 23-year-old guard, collapsed in the locker room after Saturday's loss to the Broncos and was pronounced dead at a nearby hospital later that night. The Denver coroner's office performed an autopsy on Herrion's body but has not determined a cause of death, pending the outcome of further tests. Upshaw and NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue attended a memorial service for the 49ers players Tuesday night, and Upshaw called that experience "difficult."
Herrion was listed at 315 pounds in the 49ers' media guide and weighed 15 to 25 pounds more than that last season, according to his agent. Many observers have said they wonder if Herrion's weight was a factor in his death, and are questioning whether players suffer from obesity that is contributing to poor health. The league and union have assigned medical experts to study the issue, but Upshaw said he isn't ready to draw any conclusions yet.
"The people who are talking about the issue are the media," he said. "We have to let the medical people determine what happened and whether any of that was a factor. No one wants to accept the fact that the players are this size when we get them. I looked at the high school all-American team, and there wasn't a lineman on there less than 290 pounds."
Upshaw said he also believes that the routine medical care given to players is thorough. According to agent Fred Lyles, Herrion underwent at least four physicals over the past two years, in which he spent time with the Dallas Cowboys and the 49ers and played in NFL Europe.
-- Mark Maske