Health in the NFL is a fragile state for every team; too many are the factors impacting it, ranging from preparation to sheer luck. Of course, each team’s training staff also plays a prominent role in keeping players in shape and as healthy as possible through pro football’s physicality. And when looked at it like that, no crew was better in 2018 than the New England Patriots — at least according to the NFL Physicians Society.
The NFLPS hosted an awards ceremony on Thursday as part of its annual medical and scientific meeting during the league’s scouting combine in Indianapolis, and Patriots head athletic trainer Jim Whalen was presented with the Fain-Cain Memorial Award as the NFL’s outstanding athletic trainer of the 2018 season. It is the latest recognition for the long-time trainer, whose history in the organization dates back to the early 1990s.
Whalen, who also serves on the league’s cardiovascular committee as well as the general medicine subcommittee, first joined the club as an assistant athletic trainer for the 1992 and 1993 seasons. After stints at the University of Miami and at Kansas State, he returned to the NFL in 2000 as the an assistant for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Two years later, he returned to New England to serve as the club’s head athletic trainer.
Supervising the evaluation and care of injuries as well as the treatment and rehabilitation of the Patriots’ players, Whalen and his team — which since 2016 consists of assistants Joe Van Allen, Daryl Nelson and Michael Akinbola — have been recognized for their work before: in 2016, they were named the NFL’s athletic training staff of the year from the Professional Football Athletic Trainers’ Society; in 2017, the Athletic Trainers of Massachusetts named them as trainers of the year.
Last year, the Patriots were one of the NFL’s healthiest team all the way to winning the Super Bowl. While 13 players ended the year on injury-related reserve lists, the team’s core players remained mostly healthy throughout the season.