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Most of the people reading this piece are avid sports fans. We watch mortals hurl themselves down a field, into walls, through other men, around a diamond, up a court, into the stands, across a tape and then down a corridor, over hurdles, into plexiglass, around a pitch, and other assorted areas of a sports arena. This is the crux of their livelihood. They must be able to run faster, jump higher and be stronger than their peers or they will no longer be able to earn a living in their profession. This means an injury can not only negate any advantage they have, it can also give them a disadvantage. Following this train of logic, prevention and recovery from injuries is a HUGE part of maintaining success.
Who helps prevent and recover from injuries?? Some of the most overlooked people in the locker room - the athletic trainers, the conditioning coaches, the fitness experts, the nutritionalists, the yoga instructors, etc. Let's focus on the athletic trainers....
If you ever have the good fortune to walk into a locker room, you will see a trainer there for what seems like 24/7. They run that area. They are in at the crack of dawn and leave in darkness. They start the whirlpools, make sure the stationary bikes are oiled and functioning. They replace the weights left scattered on the floor by guys rushing off to detail their Hummers. In short, they run the inside and out of the athletic center. Most of these guys do it for the love of their profession. They aren't paid a king's ransom. Some could make more by leaving a team and starting up their own practice for sports rehab, or even join an existing practice. Some don't get paid at all and intern with a team for a period of time. It isn't easy work. They have to haul large boxes of tape and equipment. Wrap ankle and knee, after elbow and groin, player after player. Yet, talk to an athletic trainer and you will rarely hear a peep of frustration. These people love what they are doing and they take it seriously.
A lot of times when multiple players get injured over the course of a season, fans begin questioning the competence of the trainers. If they only knew more, they may not do so. In many ways, athletic trainers are doing the equivalent of arming a band of Pygmies with spears against a superpower with nuclear weapons. The tools of their trade are archaic. Support devices are tapes, cotton pads, fabric band-aids (or as I like to call them - Coverlet), and an assortment of cobbled-up devices to reduce the pain of things like brush burns, turf toe, skin tears, etc. Men who are larger and faster than their counterparts in the 70's are pretty much using the same materials those smaller, slower players used to protect themselves.
I could go into a dissertation about physics, but I will refrain from doing so in order not to lose the slower people reading this article, but let's just say that this:
Is not going to stop this:
From happening. At best, an athletic tape applied correctly can stop a force of a couple hundred pounds. A 300 pound lineman rushing full speed at the knee or ankle of a RB is going to result in close to a ton of force getting placed on a joint. In other words, probably 10 times the failure point of tape is getting applied during most plays in the NFL. Yet, relatively few injuries result from this archaic lack of protection. Mainly because of the vigilance of the trainers.
Equipment is another story. Helmets, pads, footwear, braces, undershirts, hydration systems, cooling fans, field materials, etc. have all improved greatly in the past 20 years. The trainers have learned to combine out-dated means of protection to work with modern means. And it isn't easy. Knee braces these days are modern miracles of engineering, but some players simply cannot perform at their peak performance without a maximum range of movement. Footwear technology is terrific, but some players are bound by contracts to shoe manufacturers who may not have the top of the line protection. Players who have worn shoddy headgear for years are accustomed to this poor protection and are loathe to switch to a better means of safety. A trainer not only has to understand the physical symptoms of injury and conditioning, they also have to deal with the psychological aspect of getting 300-pound lineman to wear compression stockings which look like pantyhose to treat swelling. They have to get admitted tough guys to constantly drink water in practices to remain hydrated. They need to inform the hard-headed that the ringing in their ears isn't a sign of delivering a hard hit, but is the sign of a concussion.
You are probably wondering why I'm lauding this group. I'm doing it because mainly nobody else does. These guys start their season when the draft ends. They order supplies. Prepare huge lockers of equipment that will be shuttled from practice fields back into the locker rooms, and onto buses and planes for traveling. They will get to practices several hours early to tape the players, retape them for the afternoon session, and then provide post-practice treatment. They will get tubs of Gatorade ready. Several dozen water bottles. They will have an arsenal of towels, tapes, scissors, coagulants, ointments, lotions and extra cleats ready to be used. They keep the players from having to worry about anything but playing. And mainly, I admire any group that does a job I can't. I don't want to work that hard!
In all of my time working with trainers, there is one man who stands out among the rest. He is a man of impeccable character, excellent taste, an integrity of a highest order. He will treat you like a friend the first time he meets you and will always have a smile ready. He has been a president of the Professional Football Trainers Association. He has been lauded by his Alma Mater, East Carolina, he has been a trainer for 3 Super Bowl champion teams. He is the standard that other athletic trainers can be compared to. He is Ronnie Barnes:
It makes me proud to say that as a Giants fan, there are men like Ronnie Barnes who make the organization a standard of class. While Wellington Mara suffered from Cancer in his final days, Barnes was there to provide him care and support. That was not covered in his job description, but came from being a part of "The Giants family". Always being on the go is what drives this man. He is a trainer, but has educated surgeons on treatments, has written books to guide students, he has taught sports medicine clinic internationally, and he juggles the responsibilities of Administration with that of the day-to-day requirements of a trainer. You see, Barnes is not just the Head Trainer, he is the Vice President for Medical Services. He is already a member of the National Athletic Trainers Hall of Fame, and he has set several firsts for African-American trainers. The man is a legend who continues to thrive today.
Having men like Ronnie Barnes in the industry should drive others to reach a standard. He makes rooting for the Giants that much more rewarding. We see players hurtle at breakneck speeds and then forget them when they leave the game due to injuries. Ronnie helps us remember. He can't keep everyone healthy - no trainer can, but he can keep them as healthy as possible and best of all, treat them like respected men in the process.
Here's to Ronnie Barnes - a three-time Super Bowl champion, and one of the finest behind the scenes men of all time.
For the readers - toast Ronnie and then research the trainer of you favorite team to see the extensive backgrounds and achievements they've reached. Read more about Ronnie Barnes, not to laud the man, but to appreciate the contributions of the training staff. Learn something new today. Thanks.