By Kim Diggs
From a football-loving kid with dreams of being involved in the NFL to four-time Professional Football Athletic Trainers’ Society president and NATA Political Action Committee (NATAPAC) keynote speaker, Ronnie Barnes, ATC, has come a long way.
In junior high school, Barnes had goals of becoming an athletic trainer and, in 1980, he gained that opportunity – becoming the only African American athletic trainer in the NFL as the full-time athletic trainer for the New York Giants. He is now the vice president of medical services for the team and serves on several NFL committees, aiming to push the care provided to NFL players forward. Barnes recently contributed to the Own Your Impact column series in the June NATA News.
Find out how his early years sparked his passion for athletic training.
As a junior high school student, Barnes’ was encouraged to read the Cramer First Aider newsletters by his football coach. After attending some training workshops at North Carolina State University, he knew he wanted to be an athletic trainer when he got older.
“I developed a passion for athletic training because I found it rewarding to make a difference in athletes’ lives by helping them return to sport after injury,” Barnes said. “At an early age, I could feel the gratitude from athletes I helped. The bonus was that I could attend every sporting event, especially football, which I loved.”
As a high school student, Barnes was able to meet some of the biggest names in athletic training.
“I met many of the real pioneers … during the 1970s … such as Al Proctor at North Carolina State, Fred Hoover at Clemson, Whitey Gwen at West Virginia, Otho Davis at Duke University and Ed Block at the Baltimore Colts,” Barnes said.
One of the most impactful interactions he had with an AT in high school boosted his confidence to stay the course.
“I was also fortunate to meet Chester Grant, an African American athletic trainer at North Carolina State, who told me that, if I continued my education in athletic training, I could name my job when I graduated,” he said. “He was correct.”
His fascination with the functions of the human body, thirst for knowledge and love of assisting athletes guided him throughout his career, dedicating most of it to fine tuning health care services within the NFL. By building relationships within the profession and the league, Barnes was able to rise through the ranks, leading him to serve four consecutive terms as the president of the Professional Football Athletic Trainers’ Society.
“My curiosity and my compassion has guided me throughout my professional life,” Barnes said.
The NFL is dedicated to scientific advancement in health care, as well, devoting millions of dollars in grants to fund research projects, Barnes said.
“The NFL Foundation committed $25 million over a three-year period to test and expand health and safety projects, including $1 million to pay for athletic trainers in underserved high schools across the country,” he said.
Barnes’ aim is to continue to encourage research within the NFL, hoping this will influence other levels of sports.
“I’m just scratching the surface on the extensive nature of our research,” he said. “Although much of our data collected on NFL data can’t be compared to athletes at other levels, the outcomes and innovations have a tremendous trickledown effect to all levels of football and other sports.”
His dedication to innovation hasn’t only been felt within the NFL. He has been active in NATA for years, serving as the second president of the NATA Research & Education Foundation.
“I always enjoyed working with my close friend and respected leader in the profession – Marj Albohm,” he said. “Marj and I worked on the NATA Foundation together with much success. We united to begin the early conversations regarding third party reimbursement for athletic trainers, as well as a massive outcomes project.”
One of the constants throughout Barnes’ career has been change, just as it has been for many other ATs. According to him, this is the key to inspiring revolutionary practices and elevating care – encouraging inclusivity and respecting the necessity of change to always remain forward-thinking and on the precipice of the next great discovery.
“We have a common purpose to increase the respect and recognition of athletic training,” Barnes said. “I have been inspired by the new initiatives created by our many committees and our board of directors. A popular John F. Kennedy quote is, ‘Change is the law of life and those who look only to the past or present are certain to miss the future.’”