AHRA 2017: An inside look at medical imaging in the NFL

Numerous sessions at AHRA 2017 in Anaheim, California, have focues on topics such as clinical decision support, patient-centered care and leadership. Only one session, however, gave attendees a sneak peek at what it’s like working on the sideline during an NFL game.

Anthony Anderson, RTR, has been a radiologic technologist for the Seattle Seahawks for 15 seasons, watching Seattle home games from the best seat in the house and working closely with the team’s players. During his presentation late Monday afternoon, “Inside the NFL from a Radiology Standpoint,” Anderson pulled back the curtain and shared stories and photos from his time with the league.

Every NFL stadium has its own medical team, he explained, and the radiologic technologist is a part of that exclusive group. And though that team works specifically for the Seahawks, they treat players from both home and opposing teams. “It’s our equipment,” Anderson said. “And we know how to use it.”

“We have a really nice x-ray room,” he added. “We made two modifications: We made our rails go wall to wall, because we don’t take players off the cart, and we moved stuff around so they could watch the game while they’re in there.” The room also includes fluoroscopy, and it currently has CR, but DR is being installed in all NFL stadiums before the next season begins.

Anderson said people always ask him how he happened to get such an exciting job. He likes to joke around sometimes and come up with fake answers, but the truth is actually very straightforward. “You have to be in the right place, at the right time, and you have to know somebody,” he said. “And I was in the right place, at the right time, and I knew somebody.”

Anderson is also quick to point out that it’s a more complicated job than it might appear. You x-ray players during training camps, you closely study each position on the field, and you have to work around large athletes wearing bulky pads that get in the way.

As one might expect at a conference like AHRA, attendees at the session had numerous questions about the logistics of what Anderson does. To summarize some of those answers quickly: the entire league uses a PACS, images are kept “for a very long time,” there’s no MR or CT done at the stadium, and all exams are ordered verbally.

Anderson’s presentation also featured several other anecdotes about what it’s like being behind the scenes during NFL games:

  • On why the x-ray room has its very own security guard: “We had a news reporter trying to go in the x-ray room. We had taken a high-profile player back there, and she was trying to snap a picture of the CR screen.”
  • On finding a closet full of fancy shoes, but knowing none of them will fit: “You’re looking for your size, but all you see is 22s, 24s. Nobody in the NFL wears a 10. Even the kicker is a size 12!”
  • On his diet during a game: “We have a lot of eating going on. We eat a lot. We go to the media room—they have better food than the normal rooms.”
  • On not treating fans: “Fans have to go to the hospital. But we do everyone else—players, coaches, coaches’ wives, coaches’ kids, the owner of the team, the owner of the team’s wife/girlfriend/sister/uncle/cousin!”

For more on Anderson’s time working for the NFL, read his recent column.