NFL Report

February 20, 2018

Just before the season ended, the NFL offered a behind-the-scenes glimpse into the medical setup for games. With athletic trainers, neurotrauma physicians, and data technicians, there are a range of professionals included for the procedures with about 30 medical staffers on the sidelines.

As outlined in an article from The Virginian-Pilot, part of the process is a pre-game meeting. During that hour-long meeting, everyone involved with the medical procedures is in attendance. This is partly so everyone can work together without any glitches during the game.

“The collaborative effort between teams is where it should be… seamless and flawless,” Eric Sugarman, MS, ATC, Head Athletic Trainer for the Minnesota Vikings.

Part of the meeting is dedicated to the Emergency Action Plan. Along with descriptions of what to do in almost any emergency situation, hand or arm signals are included for smooth communication when action is needed.

Each stadium has a “quiet room” that is designated for concussion-related examinations. The unaffiliated neurotrauma consultants and a member of the team’s medical staff are in that room for the exams that typically take 10 to 12 minutes. Otherwise, no one is allowed into the exam areas.

Although the NFL has been criticized about its concussion protocol, Allen Sills, M.D., Chief Medical Officer for the NFL, disagrees. “I like to say it wasn’t written on the back of an envelope on an elevator ride one day,” he said. “There is a tremendous amount of planning, of study, of preparation, of gathering expert opinion. And frankly, I find it very offensive when people say, ‘Gosh, the concussion protocol is a joke.’ Because it is a very rare scientific document. No protocol is perfect. No protocol accounts for every single medical scenario, and that’s why we have to continue to make it better. But we are incredibly dedicated to the task of making it as good as it can be.”

Local athletic trainers are hired as concussion spotters, working with video technicians who tag plays that end up with injuries. The athletic trainers’ are stationed in a booth, with the task of keeping an eye out for head injuries. If one occurs, they can call for a medical timeout and a sideline monitor can play the video for the medical staff to see what happened.

“People like me might have looked at it with a crooked eye,” Sugarman said. “Big Brother looking over your shoulder. But it’s been invaluable. You can’t see everything. It’s very protective to know they’re looking out for you.”

Along with the game-day spotters, the NFL has worked to train the medical staff on concussion and head trauma. The league hosted a training session last summer that was dedicated to that topic.

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