Reggie Scott, the Rams’ vice president of sports medicine and performance, has wider responsibilities than he might have in the old days when, as he puts it, teams had “a trainer with a roll of tape and a water bottle.” His name comes up anytime coaches and players talk about injury recovery, COVID-19 issues and much more. Scott, 42, a Dover, Delaware native with degrees from West Virginia and California University of Pennsylvania, is president of the Professional Football Athletic Trainers Society. As he nears his 12th season with the Rams, managing about 20 people, Scott spoke with Rams beat writer Kevin Modesti on a patio at the team’s training-camp hotel in Newport Beach. The conversation is edited for brevity.
How has your job changed — from the days of a trainer with ankle tape — to what you do now?
It’s amazing. It has advanced so much. I always tell people we’re pretty much running a health-care facility on site, from the rehabilitation we do, to all the medical stuff, now in taking on a pandemic. All the emerging sciences, even the performance world, strength and conditioning. Everything from a head cold to a torn ACL, we’re managing. It’s a big, big undertaking.
The Rams’ medical issue of the moment is Cam Akers. What kind of recovery can be expected for a running back in his early 20s from an Achilles tear?
You expect a great recovery for a young guy like that. He’s got that going for him. We’ve got a great surgeon in Dr. Neal ElAttrache. And you’ve got a kid who’s super-committed and works his tail off. So that’s just a great combination for a guy to come back and be as strong if not better than before.
The Rams have a 39-year-old left tackle, Andrew Whitworth, a 34-year-old wide receiver, DeSean Jackson, a 33-year-old quarterback, Matthew Stafford. Aaron Donald, hard to believe, just turned 30. Can you do more than in years past to help players extend their careers? Are we going to see more Tom Bradys, playing well into their 40s?
Yes, I think modern medicine and innovation and what we’re learning about performance and joint preservation has improved. Life expectancy gets better. It’s very similar in football. I think we’ve got very proactive in how we take care of guys, and I think guys have gotten more educated about how to take care of themselves. There’s a lot of things that have to go your way, too, to play long in this game. That’s a really elite group of people you’re talking about, and it’s a credit to who they are.
Speaking of Aaron Donald, the best defensive lineman going: Players and coaches talk about what makes him great. What stands out about him to someone in sports medicine?
For someone who’s so elite at what he does, he attacks the weight room every day as if he has to earn it. He prepares like no other. He’s gotten so much better over the years at learning how to take care of his body. I love the way, over the past few years, that he’s starting to learn how to rein back and be smart with recover strategies. A lot of guys, you’ve got to push them to prepare. With him, total opposite. You’ve got to pull this guy back.
Fans look at Tutu Atwell and assume a 5-foot-9, 160(ish)-pound rookie wide receiver is bound to get hurt. What can you tell them?
We haven’t found any predictor of injuries. We can do a lot of things to mitigate risk, but I just don’t we can predict injuries. Tutu Atwell, the way he approaches the game and takes care of himself, can be very successful in this league.
Are the Rams doing anything different to prepare a team for the increase from 16 to 17 regular-season games, presenting one more chance to get fatigued or hurt?
I don’t think our approach has changed much for one more game. Obviously, we did lose a preseason game (going from four to three) and our starters don’t play much or at all in the preseason. It think we’ll stick to our process, and that extra game will take care of itself.
How well have the NFL and the Rams handled COVID-19?
Well, in the midst of the biggest pandemic of our lifetimes, we missed no football games. I would grade that pretty well. The league really did an excellent job of creating an environment for us to be healthy and safe. That’s been the North Star in all this. People that are getting sick are getting early treatment. There’s been a preventative approach within the ecosystem that we’re living in that’s kept it contained the best it can be. It’s a great committee approach by Dr. Allen Sills, the NFL’s chief medical officer, getting experts across the world and a lot of athletic trainers and a lot of members from our Professional Football Athletic Trainers Society involved. Here it is, we’re going into another season confident.
In talking with players about whether they should get vaccinated, have you learned anything that could apply to the efforts to persuade everyday folks to get their shots?
I think the key component to our approach to vaccinations is really just to get good informative education, accurate information. That’s the approach I think all us need to take. Get informed so you can make the best decision for your health and safety.
With your experience as a Black man in an important role in the NFL, what do you tell players about how they should address and handle racial issues, both inside and outside the sport?
One of the biggest things is to be a listener. Make sure that we’re creating an environment to listen. I feel, with a lot of the young African American men on this team, to be able to listen to them and be able to guide them a little bit is probably one of the biggest things I can do. It’s been a blessing to be able to be there with them and listen and help guide.
How well is the NFL dealing with head injuries and improving protection?
I think the advancement has been awesome. You look at Biocore, the bio-engineering company that the league hired, and look at helmet-wear. When I first got in this business, a lot of helmets were not really qualified for the game. We know that helmets obviously do not eliminate concussions, but there’s been reduction of it by producing better equipment, better fitting. All of the money the NFL has put into research, you’re starting to feel the fruit of that. We’ve got a ways to go, but it’s been a great change and I’m really excited about that.
We see coaches like the Rams’ Sean McVay routinely hold key players out of pre-season games, reflecting the inherent danger of playing football. If a parent looks at that and wonders, “Is football safe for my child?”, what can you tell them?
We have three preseason games, we have a 17-game season. Strategizing on reducing exposure is kind of our approach. From a health-and-safety perspective, I think our game has continued to show improvement. I would say it goes back to people educating themselves, researching things. It’s really promising to see how much we’re doing to keep our game healthy and safe for the longevity of everybody.
How safe was the artificial turf at SoFi Stadium last season? How will it be now that more and more events will be held there?
We know artificial turf has about a 45% increase in injury rate compared to natural grass. That’s just a fact. The NFL has researched how we can reduce that gap. There are a lot of variables. I said, let’s make sure we have the best turf that we can have to mitigate risk. We found one of the best companies, in Hellas, that we’re really excited to work with. Then we hired full-time staff for SoFi that manage the infill exactly how we need it. I think last year we did really well with it.
Simone Biles, on the heels of Naomi Osaka, has focused attention on athletes’ mental health. Do you, or could you, see similar cases with football players struggling with the mental stresses of the sport?
A lot of athletes, even football players, have come out and talked about their mental health and some of the things they’ve done to help their mental health. I think that’s awesome. I think that awareness is important.
What would make this a successful season for the VP of sports medicine and performance?
How do I measure success? I kind of take this from Aaron Donald: I put my head down and focus on my process. When you look up and look at the success, that’s when things go wrong.
If the Rams win the Super Bowl, you will have contributed in a lot of ways.
There’s a lot of moving parts for us to win the Super Bowl, and I’d be just a little fraction of it. But if we win the Super Bowl, that would be a pretty darned successful year.
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