Matt Munjoy has spent 12 years on high school football sidelines trying to spot concussions and other injuries as part of the Decatur Memorial Hospital athletic training staff.
This fall, Munjoy, the DMH Athletic Training Outreach Coordinator, had a different vantage point at Illinois’ home football games, where he worked as an Independent Medical Spotter for the Big Ten Conference.
At six games this year – five at Illinois’ Memorial Stadium and one at Soldier Field in Chicago – Munjoy sat with replay officials in the press box and used the same equipment they have to make sure officials on the field and each team’s training staff didn’t miss anything.
The NFL uses independent spotters in their games, and after the controversy involving Michigan quarterback Shane Morris last season (Morris got up wobbly after a hit and leaned on another player to keep his balance, yet stayed in the game) the Big Ten decided to do the same. Munjoy said several schools, including Illinois, also have their own independent spotter.
Munjoy got involved through a friend in Chicago who had some contacts with the Big Ten Office in New York. They were looking for independent medical spotters.
Munjoy said he had some anxiety about the position, particularly how the teams’ medical staffs would respond, but found no backlash.
“Some of the officials said to me, ‘Thanks to that Michigan game, you’ve got a job,'” Munjoy said. “The most anxiety was going to the visitor’s locker room to introduce yourself to their athletic trainers. They have a head trainer and a staff — I always thought maybe I’d get a comment like, ‘We don’t need you.’ But I think everyone understood what I was there for — you can never have too many sets of eyes on it.”
Munjoy was given a short training session before the Illini’s Week 1 game against Kent State. Every week his routine was to meet with the replay officials, game officials and each team’s training staff, then attend a meeting an hour-and-a-half before the game with the officials, TV production crew and anyone else involved with putting the game on.
“It’s just making sure everyone’s on the same page,” Munjoy said.
A spotter isn’t there to be the first person to identify potential head injuries, that’s the job of both teams’ medical staff and the officiating crew. But if during a game, the spotter sees a player display signs of head injury and remain in the game without attention from either schools’ training staff or the game officials, the spotter can intervene and stop the game, if necessary. It’s each team’s medical staff’s decision on whether or not the player is OK to re-enter the game.
Munjoy never had to stop a game, but there were some instances in which he was in contact with officials on the field, and a couple other times his hand was on the phone when an official or medical staff noticed the injury.
“If I saw something, I would try to give the officials and medical staff a chance to respond before I started calling down there,” Munjoy said. “There were just a couple times when I would signal down and say, ‘Hey, check out this guy.'”
With access to the same replay system the replay officials use, Munjoy could also go back and double-check a play from multiple views in slow motion if the need arises.
“If I see something happen and I think, ‘That just didn’t look quite right,’ I can go back and see that,” Munjoy said. “And I talk to the medical staffs from both teams and tell them, ‘If you have a guy get hurt, whether it’s his knee or anything, and you need some feedback, ring up to me and I can go through the video and tell you exactly what happened, how he got hit or the direction he got hit, things like that.'”