Vikings Head Athletic Trainer Eric Sugarman brings ambition, innovation and professionalism to Winter Park on a daily basis and, along with his hard-working and talented staff, has been a pivotal member of the organization since he arrived on the job in 2006.
As Sugarman goes through the early stages of his 15th season on an NFL sideline and his sixth with the Vikings, he does so as an immensely respected source of pride for his family, friends and entire community back home because earlier this month he was inducted as a member of the Hazleton Area Sports Hall of Fame Class of 2011.
Sugarman was unable to attend the September 18 induction ceremony because the Vikings played their home opener that day. But he did draft an induction speech, and his father delivered the speech on his behalf.
“I said in the speech that I dedicate this award to my parents because really, I think that they appreciated it as much as I did,” Sugarman said. “Not that I didn’t appreciate it, but to them it was truly an honor and a big deal to have their son honored. I’m sure they’re still smiling about it.”
Make no mistake, though, as a man who takes pride in his work and never settles for just good enough, Sugarman considers it a great honor to be inducted into his hometown hall of fame.
“Yes, because it’s your home own,” Sugarman said. “I kind of play it off like it wasn’t a big deal, but really when you think about it, I think it is a big deal. I’m being recognized by community members that knew me when I was a little kid. If I look at all the people who are on the committee that inducted me into the hall of fame, these are all people that were my age now when I was a little kid. And it’s kinda cool.
“I wish I could’ve been there to see those people because I haven’t seen a lot of them in forever.”
The traits that Sugarman brings to Winter Park today blossomed at an early age while he grew up in Hazleton, a blue-collar town in northeastern Pennsylvania. As a seventh grader, Sugarman was asked by the varsity football coach to be the team’s water boy. Sugarman obliged and walked into the training room, where he met the school’s trainer, Mike Macejko, for the first time.
Meeting Macejko, who is known as “Magic,” was the first step in Sugarman’s journey to the NFL.
“Honestly,” Sugarman insists, “that’s how it started. And from that day forward, he took me under his wing. I was his only student trainer he’d ever had at that time, and then I came back in eighth grade and ninth grade, started going to other events with him. And I said, ‘I think I might want to do this for a career.’”
Sugarman found time to play high school sports, but he was most passionate about traveling with Magic to as many events as possible, and it led him to pursue the field of athletic training in college. Sugarman earned his bachelor’s degree in health and physical education with an emphasis in athletic training from West Chester University and went on to earn his master’s degree in sports management at the University of Richmond.
Sugarman, who in 2009 was named the “NFL’s Most Irreplaceable Athletic Trainer” by ESPN Magazine, got his first taste of the NFL as a summer intern for the Chicago Bears athletic training staff from 1993-95 before spending time at West Chester, Richmond and then the Chicago Cubs organization. He then found a spot in the NFL, where he spent the 1997-99 seasons with the Bears and the 2000-05 seasons with the Philadelphia Eagles.
Now, many years later, it’s Magic who shows up to Vikings training camp each year to help Sugarman. Every year on the first day of camp when Sugarman addresses the players for the first time, he introduces his staff and describes Magic as “the oldest intern in the NFL.”
Making Sugarman’s induction this year even more special is the fact that Magic was inducted into the Hazleton Area Sports Hall of Fame last year.
“Magic is the best friend I have,” Sugarman said. “We’ve become really close. He came to Philly as an intern for a couple summers, and now he hasn’t missed a training camp here.
“It’s fun to let him enjoy what I do.”
What Sugarman does is impressive. His job as Head Athletic Trainer is to supervise the evaluation and care of all injuries sustained. He and his staff implement and maintain proactive treatment and rehabilitation programs. In fact, proactive is the word that should be associated with Sugarman’s tenure in Minnesota.
“You can’t let this pass you by, because it will,” Sugarman said. “If you don’t want to try new things and if you’re so set in your ways and so rigid that you won’t do anything new, the profession will pass you by in no time. You can’t let that happen because you’re doing yourself and your staff a disservice, but you’re also doing a huge disservice to your players. So you can’t do that. And we try every offseason to learn one or two new techniques and bring one or two new things to our players.”
Sugarman and his staff have been instrumental in helping several players return from severe injury by creating or enhancing rehab protocols, most notably working with
The Vikings medical and training staff also takes great pride in their work with educating players on the importance of hydration.
“One of the things we pride ourselves in during training camp is the ability to educate our players on hydration and the efforts we go through to keep our team hydrated,” Sugarman explained. “As the season goes on, at times that can be a competitive advantage for us.”
They aren’t mentioned as a “key to the game” by broadcasters before kickoff and they aren’t considered one of the “stars of the game” after a big win. But an NFL team’s head athletic trainer and the training staff play as important a role as coaches and players.
Congratulations to Eric Sugarman on his induction to the Hazleton Area Sports Hall of Fame.