Jan 29, 2015
A Giant in the Field

For over 30 years, Athletic Trainer Ronnie Barnes has worked the sidelines for the New York Giants. This Sunday, he will make his fifth appearance on sport’s biggest stage–the Superbowl. There’s no doubt that Barnes has had a storied career in sports medicine, afterall, he was the NFL’s first African-American athletic trainer, a pioneer in the development of on-site training facilities, and helped build a network of team physicians that is now a league standard. But his impact extends well beyond the New York locker room.

For example, during his time with the Giants, Barnes developed a a lifelong friendship with team owner Wellington Mara, endearing him to Mara’s family and the team’s players along the way.

“I can’t even put into words what he’s meant to the franchise and to the family. My mother still refers to him as her 12th child,” John Mara told the Boston Herald. “He has taken very good care of our players and our family, including my father for many, many years. I would venture to say he’s the most valuable player in this franchise.

“He was at my father’s bedside for most of the final six weeks or so that he was in the hospital (in 2005). He took such care of him. They had a special bond. I get emotional even thinking about it, how he cared for him during that final period.”

Barnes says he often reflects on his relationship with Wellington Mara (who died of cancer in 2005) and Mara’s leadership style set the bar for how he and the team treats players’ health.

“Part of my success as an athletic trainer is gaining the respect of players and making for sure they understand you’re here for their benefit; you’re their advocate rather than advocate for the coach or team specifically,” Barnes said. “That’s an important mission for the athletic trainer and Mr. Mara made that very easy. He was always setting the tone for that, always making sure I put the players’ health first.”

That approach is not lost on the Giants players.

“Ronnie always has the players’ best interests at heart. I would hope you could say that about every place you play, but he truly is like that,” All-Pro guard Chris Snee said. “Absolutely, Ronnie will have your back. If you’re really hurt and you can’t practice, he will defend you.”

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