Breaking Barriers: Women in the NFL


- Sonia Gysland, athletic trainer for the Pittsburgh Steelers

This may not be well known, but women as athletic trainers have been amazingly scarce within the NFL for many years. Why is this amazing? Over 50% of athletic trainers are women. But in the NFL, women are not often hired to be athletic trainers. There are female medical advisors, coaches, lawyers, and even a few owners, but for some reason, athletic training is having a hard time following suit.

Why are women scarce in this field? One explanation is simple discrimination. When hiring, the first thing an employer sees on a resume is a name. And a study done by Stanford University showed that the exact same resume, with a male’s name or a female’s name on it, the male would be hired more than not, and with higher pay

Recently some very small progress has been made to reduce this barrier. Sonia Gysland, Pittsburgh Steelers Assistant Athletic Trainer since 2011, followed in the footsteps of the NFL's first female athletic trainer, Ariko Iso. And since then other teams have been looking to get females on internships that can ultimately lead to a full time position with teams. Gysland stated that she thought it was “easier for a team to hire a female when they’ve already done so in the past and it had worked out great.”

What about the other teams that have yet to do so? Do they take the same chance and follow, or do they continue to hire men like they have done for so long? The question is that if it hadn’t worked out for Iso, would Gysland have been offered the job based on merit and previous involvement alone? I like to think yes.

But for this slow moving transition, it may be too radical to believe that a woman would be hired because of what they can bring to the team, instead of what the team thinks they are genetically lacking. Gysland thinks that it is not the career itself that is so slow to move females in, but the coaches and ownership who have had a “right” way for so long that they are the ones to convince that women are just as competent, just as hard working, and just as necessary as men.

Remember, you are not likely to hire the best person if you eliminate at least half of the potential hiring pool before you even start. This is a lesson all NFL teams should follow.

Rachel Maag

Disclaimer: I am in no way, shape, or form a certified Athletic trainer, only a student. My opinion is just that. My knowledge is based on my schooling for this degree which is ever-changing and may be outdated at some times. What I post is solely of my discretion and this article is in no way connected with my university, with my program, with any certified trainer’s I am associated with, or the National Athletic Training Association.


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