The next time you’re watching a Washington Redskins football game on TV, there’s a chance you’ll see Kyle Blackman ’07. As the team’s assistant athletic trainer, Blackman is on the sidelines at every game, and when a player suffers injury he’s one of the first responders on the field.
“It’s a mad dash to reach the player and get the right doctor out there to evaluate the injury. As quickly as possible, we have to communicate what’s happening back to the coach and the media.
“Everybody wants to know if we can get that player back onto the field, and when. We have to determine if it’s possible in the next two minutes, the next game or the next season. The hectic pace is the fun part,” said Blackman.
On the gridiron and in the training room, professionalism is paramount, but having the chance to witness injured players at their most vulnerable moments and being part of their rehabilitation makes the work extremely personal, explained Blackman.
“It’s very exciting watching a player you’ve rehabbed – sometimes for several weeks or months — safely return to what they love to do, and help the team be successful. Knowing you had a hand in it is pretty cool,” Blackman said.
It’s easy to understand how someone in Blackman’s line of work could get distracted, perhaps even intimidated, by the celebrity status of the players requiring care. And, he was, in the beginning.
Blackman said, “After the first week or so you kind of get over being star struck. Yes, the players are fast and strong and talented, but outside of football they are normal guys. You find common ground with them, and the mega-star hype stops fazing you.”
With 10 road trips and 10 home games this past season, Blackman stayed busy, even between games.
“Taping and bracing the players take up most of my day, and toward the end of the year, as the injuries pile up, the line of players to help gets longer and longer,” said Blackman. “But, I also have a lot of logistical duties.”
For example, when the team travels, Blackman figures out what supplies need to be taken, purchased new or delivered. After the team’s eight-plus trunks reach the destination city, Blackman and his colleagues set up the training and rehab equipment on site. Blackman also manages the athletic training department’s budgets, orders equipment to outfit the trainers and compiles data, such as health risk assessments on players in the NFL draft.
“None of it’s a brain buster, but there are a lot of details to manage,” said Blackman.
He’s heading into his fourth year as the Redskins’ assistant athletic trainer and his fifth year with the NFL; he interned with the team in 2010. Although he hasn’t been home for Christmas in five years, and he works seven days a week, seven months out of the year, Blackman isn’t complaining.
“The amount of time the job requires is a pitfall, but I’m fortunate to have a very supportive wife, who understands this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” he said.
Blackman’s story about breaking into the NFL is probably similar to other athletic trainers working for a professional sports team. He started with a one-year internship doing “grunt work.” Where Blackman’s story differs is his list of references, including Troy University’s head athletic trainer Chuck Ash and orthopedic surgeon Dr. James R. Andrews, whose patients have included Drew Brees, Peyton Manning, Bo Jackson and Michael Jordan, according to CNBC. Ash was Blackman’s boss and a friend of Andrews, a former team physician for the university. Through working for Ash, Blackman become acquainted with Andrews.
“Internships are auditions. I worked very hard to do a good job for the Redskins, which helped open the door to where I am now,” said Blackman. “But, this profession is all about who you know, and I had a pretty big trump card.”
Still, like most interns, Blackman was let go at the end of his yearlong stint with the Redskins. Upon parting ways, he pursued and landed a position with a basketball team in Tennessee, and he got engaged. As he and fiancée Amanda prepared to start a new life, the offer of an assistant athletic training position with the Redskins interrupted their plans.
“It was difficult at the time, but accepting the job and moving was one of the best decisions we’ve ever made,” said Blackman.
Another great decision, said Blackman, was attending Franklin College.
“Franklin and the liberal arts experience pushed me to try things outside my comfort zone and definitely helped me grow and mature,” he said. “I could have gone to a big school and had a good time, but I don’t think I would have thrived. I needed to be at a school where a professor had my cell number and would call and guilt me into getting out of bed and coming to class.”
Blackman’s greatest mentors were the athletic training staff members, director Kathy Taylor Remsburg, head trainer Chris Shaff ’96 and former faculty members Jessica Emlich and Melissa Burgemeister.
“Each of them had a niche of expertise and saw things from a different perspective. As a student, I had access to a wealth of knowledge and insight. I learned things from all of them that I still use today,” said Blackman.
He credits Franklin’s athletic training program for providing a strong base upon which to build his career.
“At Franklin, the staff trusted us, and they encouraged us early on to get comfortable with the athletes and get hands-on experience. When I went on to graduate school, it made such a difference. I was a veteran at doing some things that my peers had only experienced a few times or never,” said Blackman.
Another advantage of Franklin’s athletic training program was the variety of opportunities provided.
“Through the program, you get to observe professionals in several clinical settings… doctor’s offices, high schools, performance centers. It helps you narrow down your interests and plan ahead,” he said.
Blackman knew advancing in his chosen career field would require additional education so he committed to attending grad school to accomplish his goals. In preparation, he consulted his Franklin mentors for their feedback on his grad school applications, and he networked with alumni and friends.
“Keeping up with contacts was so important,” said Blackman. “At Troy University, there was a Franklin pipeline, which I was fortunate to tap into.”
The pipeline included Blackman’s predecessors, Ashley Malloy ’05 and Kara Campbell ’06, who earned graduate assistant positions with the athletic training staff at Troy and through their good work established a solid reputation for Franklin College graduates. The university welcomed Blackman and two years later Jeanetta Ford ’09.
Blackman worked with the Troy football program from 2008-10 while pursuing a master’s degree in sport and fitness administration. Prior to joining the Redskins full time, he was head athletic trainer for the Arena Football League’s (AFL) Colorado Crush. At 23 years old, Blackman was the youngest head trainer in the AFL. Blackman’s career has flourished over the last few years, but he’s taking it in stride.
“Being an assistant is just fine with me. I think I’m meant to be on the field. If that happens to be with the NFL for the rest of my career, I wouldn’t mind!”
Founded in 1834, Franklin College is a residential, liberal arts institution with a scenic, wooded campus located 20 minutes south of downtown Indianapolis, spanning 207 acres, including athletic fields and a 31-acre biology woodland. The college prepares students to think independently, to lead responsibly and to serve with integrity in their professions, their communities and the world. The college offers its approximately 1,000 students bachelor of arts degrees in 55 majors from 25 academic disciplines, 41 minors, 11 pre-professional programs and four cooperative programs. In 1842, the college began admitting women, becoming the first coeducational institution in Indiana and the seventh in the nation. Franklin College maintains a voluntary association with the American Baptist Churches USA. For more information, visit www.FranklinCollege.edu.