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Tuesday, March 5, 2024

Kansas City Chiefs’ 1st woman trainer on working in the NFL: ‘It was go big or go home’

In 2016, Tiffany Morton made history when she was hired by the Kansas City Chiefs as an assitant trainer, making her the first woman athletic trainer in the NFL. But Morton didn't see it as a big deal.

"I guess one of the pitfalls of my go-getter attitude is I kind of just didn't think about it," Morton tells CNBC Make It. "I was just focusing on trying to get a job."

Now, Morton, 35, along with fellow female Chiefs trainer Julie Frymyer (who got the job in 2018) and NFL official Sarah Thomas, will be among the six women with on-field roles during Sunday's Super Bowl. It's the most women in on-field positions during a Super Bowl in NFL history.

"We're excited," says Morton, who was promoting an NFL partnership with Sleep Number 360 smart beds (which measure biometrics like heartrate and breathing to help people track their sleep).

Here, Morton talks about training the Chiefs, what it's like to be "the first," and her advice for others.

Tiffany MortonCredit: Kansas City Chiefs photographer Steve Sanders

CNBC Make It: What does an assistant athletic trainer do exactly?

Morton: Athletic trainers are sports medicine professionals. We handle [players'] preventative care and emergency care. So anything that happens on field during the games or on the practice field. Then we do a lot of rehabilitation. Also we are their go-to when it comes to anything education-wise for their health. We are obviously big on preventing things, and part of that is recovery.

Did you always want to be an athletic trainer?

I didn't decide until I was already in college. I was initially trying to go to medical school and realized I didn't want to be behind a desk or in an office, but I still wanted the medical aspect. Then I figured out athletic training was a way to kind of mesh all the things that I really, truly wanted.

Then it was go big or go home. I never gave myself boundaries as to, I couldn't reach this or I should have to reach this. It was just let's see where the road goes.

You were hired in 2016 as the first female assistant athletic trainer. Were you nervous walking in there?

I actually did an internship with the Kansas City Chiefs before. Prior to that, I did a summer internship with the [Minnesota] Vikings. So I had a little bit of background.

And quite honestly, a lot of the guys coming in right now, they've already interacted with females in a sports medicine capacity. The athletic training crew coming in, education-wise, is more predominately female than it is men. They've had high school and college athletic trainers that were female as well. So in that aspect, the guys were fine.

My boss, Rick Burkholder, he's a huge, huge advocate for not only females but minorities in general in athletic training. But no matter what, he just wants to have the best crew around him so that his team succeeds.

Is there anything you learned or any advice you could share about working in a male-dominated field?

My first bit of advice honestly is not to think about being female. Your job is to be the best as you possibly can, not just as a female but full capacity. Your patient, your client should have the option to work with you or somebody else that they feel comfortable with, because this is their medical background.

The next aspect of it is understanding that the guys that you are currently working with, this is something new for them as well. So take a couple steps in their shoes and realize they're learning how to interact. They're learning how to have someone different and another voice from a different angle. So giving yourself a little bit of humble pie and realizing everybody's adjusting also.

What advice do you give athletes to make sure they're performing in peak condition?

One of the biggest talking points right now is just how they recover. This is 17 weeks of grueling physical contact at high speeds and you're just crashing into each other. So how do we get the body better?

One of the biggest parts of that is recovery and sleep. Sleep is something that they have control of every single night. We talk to them a lot about how quality and quantity of sleep are huge in recovery and to make sure that they don't overtrain.

What have you learned being an athletic trainer that you have incorporated into your own routine?

I try to make sure that I create a routine for myself that's almost meditative.

We wake up anywhere from 4 a.m. to 5 a.m. to get started for the day and get the guys rolling. It's a physical and mental job all day long, and we usually don't get home until 7 p.m. or 8 p.m.

Downtime is few and far between, and when we do have it, it's a cherished moment. One of the things I like to do is drink tea, and I make this whole routine out of it, where I have the frother, the teapot and all those good things. That's like my moment of quiet, please, nobody talk to me.

I also try not to eat after a certain time of night so that I'm ready for sleep.

Is it hard to have a social life during the season?

You have to train your family and friends to be open to the idea of, from about mid-July to hopefully beginning of February, life is really hard and difficult to schedule things for myself. But after that time, I make everybody else a priority and make sure that we have time together, and I have weekends again.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

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