EAGAN, Minn. (AP) — The NFL has expanded a program for minorities and women in sports medicine, aiming to increase diversity among athletic trainers and medical staff across the league in line with similar initiatives for coaches and the front office.
The league announced Monday at the spring owners meetings in Minnesota an expansion of the pool to match diverse students from 19 medical schools with NFL clubs.
The NFL Diversity in Sports Medicine Pipeline Initiative began last year with 14 medical students from historically Black colleges and universities completing one-month clinical rotations among eight NFL teams, in partnership with the NFL Physicians Society and the Professional Football Athletic Trainers Society. Medical students interested in primary care sports medicine and orthopedic surgery were selected for the pilot program, and this year the number of participants has been more than doubled.
“We need more minorities, diverse people. We need more females to continue to come within the programs, within colleges, secondary schools,” said Reggie Scott, vice president of sports medicine and performance for the Los Angeles Rams.
The league plans to expand the initiative in the future to include additional player-care disciplines such as physical therapy and behavioral health in the immersive and holistic program. The overarching goal is to boost historical underrepresentation of women as well as Black, Latino and other minority races in the field.
Given the decade-plus process of education, from medical school to residency to fellowship, another one of the NFL's goals is to raise awareness of these occupations further upstream.
“The earlier that we can get people inspired, the sooner they can get on to the types of requirements that will get them into the programs and then allow them to start seeking out the mentors,” said Dr. Allen Sills, the NFL's chief medical officer.
“So they’re not just aware of the field, but they can be confident applicants when it comes time to matriculating and matching into fields like orthopedic surgery," said Kelsey Henderson, a graduate of Meharry Medical College in Nashville who was a 2022 participant with the Tennessee Titans.
Henderson had a picture of her with Sills and NFL commissioner Roger Goodell featured in her class yearbook, a potential inspiration to future candidates.
“When I applied to medical school, I really didn’t have any mentors so I really just had to figure it out on my own,” said Omolayo Dada, a 2022 program participant from the Morehouse School of Medicine in Atlanta who worked with the San Francisco 49ers.
“I felt like I was part of the family from the get-go,” Dada said.