The Era of the Independent Trainer Begins

With two weeks left to play in the 2011 NFL season, the NFL has announced its enhanced protocol for concussion evaluation. In light of the embarrassing incident involving Browns quarterback Colt McCoy, the league and the NFLPA have taken joint action to prevent a similar situation from occurring in the short-term. It is expected that this policy will be more formalized and developed as we approach the 2012 season.

The Policy

In addition to the two teams’ medical staffs, serving in the best interests of their own organizations, there will be an independent set of trained eyes and hands stationed with the NFL official in charge of replay review.

As per the guidelines, this person must: (1) be a Certified Athletic Trainer (CAT); (2) be from a “major college program in the area” of the team; and not be a previous employee with the team (or any NFL team).

Trainers across the NFL have been submitting the resumes of local CATs to the NFL and the NFLPA for them to vet and approve the hiring of one for this weekend’s games. The league and union will then jointly tell the teams which person they are to use.

Former interns allowed

Although the person to be hired as an independent trainer shall not be a former employee of the team, there appears to be no restriction on former summer and/or seasonal interns.

Each team hires extra training staff during the busy times of the year, especially during training camp, when there are 90 bodies to take care of instead of the more manageable 60 once the rosters are set. It appears that this pool of former interns and part-time help may be some of the independent trainers being hired.

Will it help?

Of course it will. However, I believe that the concern that team medical staffs are being overwhelmed by players and coaches to put compromised players back on the field is unfair and untrue with the majority of medical and training staffs around the league. Unfortunately, the McCoy situation has caused a reaction that has potentially tainted all training staffs.

Having said that, anything to improve the potential for brain injury for players later in life is a huge plus for the NFL and its union. The heightened awareness for concussions, starting with Congressional hearings in 2009, is both necessary and vital to the league’s success.

As the concussion lawsuits mount – another was filed this week including players such as Dorsey Levens and Jamal Lewis – the NFL needs to continue to be vigilant on this topic.

Follow me on Twitter at adbrandt.

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