Keeping the Tide Rolling

December 5, 2017

At the University of Alabama, there can be more than 100,000 eyes on the football team during games. More than a dozen sets of those eyes come from the medical staff.

According to an article on AL.com, Jeff Allen, MS, ATC, Head Football Athletic Trainer and Director of Sports Medicine at Alabama, heads the athletic training staff and reports that they are always split to have coverage for both offense and defense. Medical observers are also in the press box to keep a look out for head injuries. And there are three orthopedic surgeons, three primary care physicians, two paramedics, a neurosurgeon, and a dentist at each game. 

“So, yeah, it’s a lot,” Allen said. “But we know that we’re well covered. That’s the thing. I know every scenario that could possibly happen, [and] we feel like we’re prepared to handle it based on the personnel that we have.”

The first step when a player is injured during a game is a trip to the sideline medical tent. This allows for a quick—and private—diagnosis to be made.

“Those first three to four minutes are critical because they’re not guarding as much,” Allen said. “They know they’ve been injured, but they’re still kind of in a state of—I don’t want to say shock—but they haven’t started guarding. Whereas if you get them later, and they’re all tensed up, and it’s hard to get an evaluation.”

Serious injuries are dealt with immediately. But for more minor things, Allen and his team determine what the best course of action is for the player.

"We will send kids home with things we want them to do," Allen said. "Usually, guys are going home that night with a treatment machine that they will use that night, and we'll see them the next day on Sunday."

This is when their treatment begins in the athletic training room. Even if athletes haven’t been injured, they must still check in with the athletic trainers on Sunday to confirm they are okay.

Overall, Allen reports that the rate of injuries has remained about the same over the past 15 to 20 years. He has noticed, however, that awareness about getting treatment has increased.

“That’s not only by the public or coaches, but by [the] athletes, which is great because they’re like ‘I want this taken care of,’” Allen said. “In the past, even they had the attitude that I was just going to suck it up and not worry about [it]. That’s changed, and that’s a positive thing in terms of they’re much more aware of willing to be taken care of and getting the right medical care.”

Care for Crimson Tide football players doesn’t stop when their playing days do, either. All student-athletes must obtain a close-out screening at the end of their individual eligibility. They have a year to have any lingering injuries addressed before their coverage runs out.

“Basically, it’s an opportunity for them to say, ‘Hey, my knee has been sore, I noticed it a couple of years ago, can I get it looked at? It’s gotten better, but can I get it looked at?’” Allen said.

Of course, this level of dedication to student-athlete health and well-being does not come cheap. The athletics department at Alabama spent $3.16 million, as a whole, on medical costs in 2016. The football program accounted for $1.59 million of that amount. But for Allen, every penny spent is well worth it.

“There’s never been a question at Alabama about, ‘Oh, we’re spending too much in this area,’ at all,” Allen said. “Ever. In terms of how we’re investing in them and how we’re taking care of them, that has never been a question.” 

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