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In-Depth Look: Athletic Trainer Spotter for the National Football League

Garry Miller, ATC is an Athletic Trainer (AT) spotter for the National Football League (NFL) and has been practicing in this role since 2013. Miller has been a BOC Certified AT for the past 43 years and has practiced in multiple employment settings including high school, college, clinical and professional.

In Article 5

Describe your setting

As an AT spotter for the NFL, I cover NFL teams playing in Cleveland’s First Energy Stadium. Our game day team is made up of two spotters, video and IT technicians. We work with the officials, team medical staffs and independent neurologists to monitor both teams and ensure concussions and serious musculoskeletal injuries are documented and recorded for use by teams and league officials. The AT spotter is one of the few personnel who has the authority to stop the game if it becomes apparent a player is injured and should be removed from the game. The AT spotter has direct radio contact with the referee.

I had been employed by the Cleveland Clinic for 11 years and finished with them as a contracted AT for Baldwin Wallace University, in Berea, Ohio. I had previously been an assistant professor and head AT at Baldwin Wallace for 16 years. I retired from full-time athletic training on June 30, 2019.

Describe your typical day

I typically arrive four to five hours prior to kickoff. AT spotters cover their home city stadium except when their city’s team travels internationally. For example, once our staff was designated as the spotter team, and we all were sent to London by the NFL for a game.

At the stadium, we meet before the game with the teams’ athletic training staff. We then make sure all communication and computer equipment on the field and in our booth are in order. It is also our responsibility to visit the official’s locker room to pick up computer thumb drives to be used to record game injuries. Next, we run through rosters and assign home and away teams to each spotter and video technician. We also confirm all personnel are present for the game.

Most important, 60 minutes before kickoff, we hold a medical “timeout,” where team medical staff, emergency personnel and referees review procedures and protocols.

The position is satisfying to me as it is a cutting-edge program in the care and research of concussions in football. We are seeing real advances in reduction and treatment of concussions. This work will translate across more than just football. We are pioneers in a program protecting all athletes.

What is your greatest achievement as an Athletic Trainer?

My greatest achievement as an AT was to see so many students that I mentored go on to successful careers in athletic training, physical therapy and medicine.

What advice do you have about your practice setting for a young AT looking at this setting?

Young professionals interested in entering this setting need to educate themselves about concussion care and protocol and gain experience with football at the highest levels. Unfortunately, to work as an AT spotter in the NFL, you will need to live near an NFL city. However, there are other opportunities to work as a AT spotter within college sports.

The article was originally published in the 2020 summer “Cert Update” newsletter.

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