According to the NFL Physicians Society (NFLPS), its membership is 86 percent White and 5 percent Black. The Professional Athletic Trainers Society (PFATS) members are 65 percent White and 23 percent Black.
The apparent need for more diversity among NFL medical staff as well as increased health equity for athletes across the country is being addressed. The NFL, NFLPS and PFATS joined forces and started the NFL Diversity in Sports Medicine Pipeline Initiative. In its inaugural year last season, 14 students from four HBCU medical schools worked with eight NFL clubs during the 2022 season.
This upcoming season, 19 Black students from HBCU and PWI medical schools, including the University of Minnesota Medical School, will be paired with each NFL club.
“We feel like there’s a real challenge and an opportunity to improve the representation of underrepresented groups,” declared NFL Chief Medical Officer Dr. Allen Sills during a May 22nd media call that included the MSR.
This is a league where more than half its players are Black, and Black assistant coaches (290), greatly outnumber Black HCs (3). It’s a league that is fighting a racial discrimination lawsuit filed by a former Black head coach on its hiring practices. For this league to create a sports medicine pipeline for Blacks as well as other people of color and women is surprising to say the least.
According to the Association of American Medical Colleges, enrollment of diverse students in medical schools is increasing. Black students increased by nine percent and Latinos by four percent, but Native Americans declined by nine percent. A study on diversity in medical schools shows Black medical students make up only 7.3 percent of the total U.S. medical school population, an increase of less than one percent over the last 40 years.
The need for more Black doctors and other physcians of color is needed everywhere, including the NFL, especially in occupations such as physician’s assistants, certified athletic trainers, physical therapists, occupational therapists, nutritionists, and behavioral clinicians.
When asked if a “Rooney Rule” is needed for hiring more Black medical staffers, Reggie Scott, the Los Angeles Rams V-P of sports medicine and performance, responded, “I think before you start talking about adding race rules to this, I think we’ve got to bring more exposure.
“We need more minorities, diverse people, we need more females… I think we need more of a mix. I think this approach is the right approach to take right now,” said Scott of the NFL Diversity in Sports Medicine Initiative.
Two of the participants in the 2022 initiative also spoke to the media: Morehouse School of Medicine Dr. Omolayo Dada, who worked with the Tennessee Titans, and Dr. Kelsey Henderson of Meharry Medical School, who worked with the San Francisco Forty-Niners.
“It kind of really opened my eyes to the fact that there is a problem,” explained Dada. “You’ve got 60 percent of players that are Black, but they are not seeing a medical staff that looks like them in equal numbers.
“Everyone was very, very welcoming,” continued Dada. “I was even able to talk with the nutritionist and the strength and conditioning coach, because health is not just only medicine. This exposure to [sports] medicine gave me an in-depth perspective as to what it would be like to be a sports medicine physician.”
“I learned basic science through sports medicine,” said Henderson. “I really learned to appreciate a holistic approach..and the social and cultural aspects in [sports medicine]. I was able to see how there was a great collaborative approach to sports medicine.”
“I think the most important thing with this program is watching some of these young students eventually get opportunities in the NFL, which is what the pipeline is all about,” said Scott.
“One of the goals…is to get undergraduate students or even high school students thinking about these types of careers,” concluded Sills. “There’s always more work to be done, but we’re very proud of the start.”