Teams playing in the heat need to control body core temperature of players

Sport

On Sunday, the Bills saw numerous players deal with a variety of heat-related conditions. It’s a common reality of playing in places like Miami in months like September at kickoff times like 1:00 p.m. ET. In this specific game, it seemed all too common for players to be dealing with issues arising from the heat.

During the CBS broadcast of the game, Bills coach Sean McDermott as quoted as saying, “Listen, we can educate the guys, but they’ve got to take some professionalism, and they’ve got to take responsibility and ownership in making sure they’re hydrated all week.”

Is it a case of players not doing enough to hydrate? NBC Sports Medicine Analyst Mike Ryan, who spent 26 years as an NFL athletic trainer and physical therapist, shared some thoughts with me by phone earlier today. Ryan said that, although it can be for some players an issue of proper hydration and nutrition, every player has different factors that influence the extent to which his body processes and reacts to heat.

The key, per Ryan, is to minimize the body core temperature of every player. That includes utilizing temporary and portable devices for creating shade (fixed structures are prohibited, because they impede sight lines), soaking sponges in cold water and applying those sponges to the bodies of players on the sidelines, and even filling helmets with ice water while the players are not on the field.

“Korey Stringer did not pass away because of muscle cramps,” Ryan said, regarding the Vikings tackle who died after becoming overheated at a training-camp practice in 2001. “Korey died from an uncontrolled elevation of his body core temperature. Prioritizing body core cooling is always the focus of NFL athletic trainers.”

It’s harder for the road team in a hot, sunny environment. The home team’s players are acclimated to the heat and humidity. Also, the home team typically chooses to wear white jerseys — forcing the road team to wear dark jerseys that absorb sunlight and preserve heat.

In Miami, the stadium is constructed to keep the visiting team’s sideline in the sun for as long as possible During Sunday’s game, Miami’s sideline was shaded. Buffalo’s was in direct sunlight.

It’s unknown at this point specifically what the Bills did to keep the body core temperature of their players as low as possible. (The Bills were using devices to shade players when not in the game.) Maybe, on a day like yesterday, nothing would have made much of a difference for players who came from Buffalo to play on a day when the ambient temperature was 89 degrees, with surely a much higher temperature on the field in the sun.

Regardless, the conditions gave the Dolphins a very real home-field advantage. In a close game, it may have been the difference between winning and losing.