Changing the face of the game
Photo and video by Ashley Barnas December 12, 2019
UD athletic training students interning in the NFL join a growing female presence
Women account for 55 percent of the athletic trainers worldwide, but they are still relatively rare in the National Football League. During the 2019 season, just eight of the 32 teams have a female athletic trainer — only two more than last season.
In the future, students like University of Delaware athletic training majors Erin Finley and Jordan Del Bianco could help the NFL bolster its female ranks. The two seniors were among seven UD students interning for NFL teams during the summer of 2019, getting an inside look at what athletic trainers in the NFL do on a daily basis.
Finley interned with the Los Angeles Rams during their training camp while Del Bianco spent her summer with the New York Jets.
“It’s incredible to be part of a revolution of women in the NFL. It’s empowering to work with women and be collaborating as a team,” said Del Bianco, who was among five women working on the Jets’ athletic training staff during her internship. “The experience is hard to put into words. It’s really amazing to be a part of something so much bigger than yourself.”
Working with the team
Finley traveled to Los Angeles in July and spent training camp with the team, even participating in preseason games. She quickly learned her internship would be more than just watching the team from the sidelines. Though the days were long — many stretching 12 hours — the opportunities were plenty.
“I thought we would be setting up the field, which we did. But we were also responsible for the day-to-day tasks to keep the place going,” said Finley, who works with the women’s basketball team at UD. “We also got to get involved with the rehab with the players and the taping and the things they needed during practice.”
Like Finley, Del Bianco was surprised interns were fully integrated as a key part of the training staff. She and the other interns handled player treatments before and after daily practices and preseason games. Del Bianco said her previous experience working with UD’s football team served her well while she was with the Jets.
“I was definitely a leader in some aspects, taking charge whenever things needed to be done because I had football experience last fall,” said Del Bianco. “Some of the interns didn’t have football experience so I was kind of helping them along with what to expect. I definitely felt like UD prepared me well.”
Breaking the barrier
Although plenty of UD athletic training students have interned in the NFL over the years, it wasn’t until 2017 that one of the students was a woman. For a program that with such a strong female presence — the athletic training Class of 2014 was all women — it was perplexing, said Thomas Kaminski, director of the Athletic Training Education Program, part of the Department of Kinesiology and Applied Physiology in the College of Health Sciences.
“Breaking through that was difficult,” Kaminski said. “In every other setting, female athletic trainers are thriving — the collegiate setting, high school setting, clinical setting — but for some reason professional football was really hard to crack.”
Megan O’Hanlon was the first female UD student to intern in the NFL. She spent eight weeks with the Buffalo Bills in 2017. The next year, Courtney DeFeo spent the summer interning with the Los Angeles Chargers.
Being an intern trainer with an NFL team is not for the faint of heart, said Kaminski said. He should know — Kaminski interned with the Buffalo Bills in 1983 while a student.
“It’s a lot of long hours, it’s tedious hard work, but again, the exposure they get to a professional athletic trainer and physical therapist is really second to none,” he said. “They see a lot, they are able to interact with those professionals and with the professional athletes who are at the highest level and really hone their skill set.”
Building off the experience
Although Del Bianco enjoyed her time interning in the NFL, she intends to pursue a career in alternative medicine after graduation. Her goal is to use her athletic training foundation as part of a holistic approach to treatment.
For Finley, the summer experience with the Rams sparked an interest in working fulltime in the NFL. She is applying for a year-long intern position with the Rams after graduation that would last the duration of the NFL season.
“It’s honestly so nice seeing female athletic trainers working in the NFL. Even a few years ago, it wasn’t as common,” Finley said. “It’s great to see that is a possibility and know I was part of that.”