How This Woman Helps NFL Players Get Game-Ready
“Sleep is the number one recovery tool”
Football season is in full swing, which means Kansas City Chiefs’ athletic trainer Tiffany Morton is working to keep the players on the field and healthy. Morton is one of the few women working as a full-time certified trainer at the NFL level. “[The league] is starting to search for experience and production, and are not as concerned with the gender that may come with,” Tiffany told us. This week, we’re featuring Tiffany as part of our Women in the NFL series, in partnership with Sleep Number. Read below for what she’s most excited for this season, and her trick to keeping players game-ready.
Katie Couric: You’re one of just a few full-time certified athletic trainers in the NFL. Tell us about your background and the path that led you here.
Tiffany Morton: I’ve always loved sports; I wasn’t too particular on the type. In fact, the only sport I ever avoided was basketball, and to be honest, it’s because I was never good at it! Growing up, I also enjoyed most sciences: anatomy, biology, even genetics. I thought I wanted to be a doctor. I started pre-med classes at Auburn, but wasn’t as passionate as I thought I’d be about the coursework needed for medical school. I decided to drop my pre-med classes and found myself in the career counseling center taking a personality test. Shocking result: I should be a doctor.
Thankfully in small print below that was another option — athletic training. It was so obvious, I wondered why hadn’t I thought of this before. Not surprising, the sport that really drew my attention was the competitive fast-paced, adrenaline-packed sport of football. With three brothers, a stint at a SEC powerhouse, and my healthy dose for competition, I knew football was where I should be. And my competitive side knew that to have the best chance to be the best I needed to work with the best — in the NFL.
Like a lot of professions, you’ve noted that women athletic trainers often have to work twice as hard to get that same respect as their male counterparts. Are you hopeful that those attitudes are beginning to change?
This year, the Vikings hired their first full-time female staff assistant athletic trainer. The Colts searched for an experienced smart talented assistant athletic trainer and hired a woman I look up to, Kerry Gordan. They join five other teams that have or have had female staff athletic trainers.
Organizations are starting to search for experience and production and are not as concerned with the gender that may come with. Women have spent years banging on glass ceilings and building bridges, all in hopes to have a change. It’s a tribute to them that I am here. Those women put in double and triple time, so that when I worked hard to get my shot, organizations would finally accept. The most special thing is seeing a woman like Kerry who set the bar for us ladies with her own dedication and work ethic finally make it. Attitudes are changing, and you will see more opportunities for women. And that’s all we need.
Your job entails trying to prevent player injuries, and also rehabilitating them if they do end up hurt. What do you think the average viewer doesn’t understand about your job?
People don’t know the education and time needed to get these guys healthy. More than 90% of NFL athletic trainers have a higher-level degree. We are one of the most educated departments in each organization. We are required to maintain up-to-date and relevant medical information by attending seminars, conferences, symposiums, and adding credentials and new tools to the tool belt. And that takes time. We spend 60–80 plus hours a week working to give our guys the best. Our guys look to us first to get them better. It’s our job and our passion to be able to do that for them better than anyone. And if we can’t, we make sure to bring in those who can. First, to help our guy, then to teach us.
I heard from my friends at Sleep Number that over the last two seasons, 2,000 NFL players have purchased Sleep Number® 360 smart beds to help with their performance and recovery. Given your focus on getting players into their best physical shape, what part does sleep play in that equation?
Sleep is the number one recovery tool. Lack of sleep could cause a decrease in reaction time, strength and coordination, and mental acuity. We obviously talk about strength training, prevention, nutrition. But we are sure to educate players about sleep going as far as having curfews, conducting sleep studies, checking on sleep trends, and stressing the importance after tough days. Chronic sleep deprivation has serious side effects, and we need every guy at his top in order to get to the next level.
During the season, your travel schedule must be brutal! How do you make sure you’re taking care of your own health and well-being, particularly when it comes to getting the proper amount of rest?
Staying on a schedule helps tremendously. Long days usually start and end at the same time, so I can plan my self-care. I know which nights I would like to workout, cook, or visit with friends and still have time for my nightly routine. Sometimes it deviates, but I’ve learned to be pretty selfish about my sleep in order for me to give my best to our team when they need me. The other huge component is that while I may not get the quantity of sleep I would like, I regularly get quality sleep from my Sleep Number bed and using my SleepIQ app. I set realistic sleep schedule goals in the app and check myself to see if I am meeting them. If I’m tossing and turning, I evaluate what was different and try to make changes. It’s the same process I’d advise our guys to be sure they’re getting quality rest as well.
Finally, what are you most excited about this season?
Every year brings excitement, but this year, I’m really looking forward to continuing to learn from my coworkers and as a team getting our guys healthy. I want our guys to feel like they have the best shot on the field due to preparation. If something happens I want to them to have one less thing to worry about because they know their medical staff is the first class medical crew they deserve, and more than prepared to do whatever is necessary to get them back to the field.
This interview has been edited and condensed.
This originally appeared in the October 24, 2019 edition of Katie Couric’s Wake-Up Call newsletter. Subscribe here.