Breaking New Ground

January 29, 2015
By Mike Phelps

In 2007, Sue Falsone, ATC, SCS, CSCS, became the first female physical therapist in Major League Baseball when she was hired by the Los Angeles Dodgers. On Oct. 31, the team promoted Falsone to Head Athletic Trainer/Physical Therapist, making her the first female head athletic trainer in major professional sports. Here, Falsone talks about her historic climb.
According to Falsone, discussions began for her to become Head Athletic Trainer as soon as the 2011 regular season ended. She and Stan Conte, who previously served as Director of Medical Services and Head Athletic Trainer for the Dodgers and is now Senior Director of Medical Services, have worked together for years and often discussed this type of move being made. Now that those discussions have come to fruition, Falsone couldn't be happier.

"This is special to me on so many different levels," she says. "Number one, just being entrusted with this type of a position with an organization such as the L.A. Dodgers--that alone is special. As far as being a woman, it's surprising that it's taken until 2011 for this to happen. There are so many women athletic trainers in high school and college, it was bound to happen at some point. But I'm definitely honored to be in the position that I'm in."

The move was another in a long line of firsts for the Dodgers organization. Jackie Robinson famously became the first African-American to play in MLB in 1947 when he donned a Dodgers uniform, and the franchise was also the first MLB team to move to the west coast in 1958, the first to have both a Korean-born (1994) and Taiwanese player (2002), and the first to play a Major League game in China (2008).

"This is a very special day not just for Sue, but for the Dodgers and Major League Baseball," General Manager Ned Colletti said in a press release. "The Dodgers have always been an organization of firsts and this promotion for Sue continues in that tradition."

Despite being the first female in her position in the history of major pro sports, Falsone doesn't view her promotion as anything out of the ordinary. She's worked with professional male athletes throughout her career and doesn't expect anything to change now that she's in charge.

"I've been in the clubhouse before," she says. "I traveled with the [Dodgers] for several years, so I know what that is like. My experience has always been that I'm very respectful of the players' space. I know that I'm in their space, and I need to be mindful of where I am. I stay out of the clubhouse when I know guys are changing. I respect them and respect their space and I've found that in return they do the same for me."

Falsone has also found that male athletes don't treat her any differently than they would a male athletic trainer. She believes that's because players appreciate her knowledge and expertise.

"Respect is gained from the trust that you end up gaining with your expertise," she says. "Everybody has had an injury and if somebody can help you through that injury, you begin to form a trust. I've had some success with injury management with all the different types of athletes I've worked with. Because of that, the athletes tend to end up trusting me."

In addition to her work with the Dodgers, Falsone has spent the past 10 years working as the Vice President of Performance Physical Therapy and Team Sports at Athletes' Performance, located in Phoenix, Ariz. She will continue in this role and help spearhead a new partnership between the Dodgers and Athletes' Performance.

"It's ironic that everybody thinks the change that the organization is making is about me being a woman," Falsone says. "That's really not what the change is. The change is really about us as an entire medical staff looking at new and innovative ways to decrease injury rates and manage injuries. I've worked with baseball, in-season and out-of-season, but obviously I'm not from baseball, so we'll have a different perspective on injury management and decreasing our injury rates. All of those things are really what's exciting about this change.

"There are some great programs that have been put in place in the past and we want to evaluate everything with a critical eye," she continues. "Right now that's the stage I'm in, evaluating the program in general and seeing where we can make some of those new and innovative changes."

Still, Falsone has enjoyed the outpouring of support she has received from friends and fellow athletic trainers wishing to congratulate her on the new position.

"I was definitely surprised [by the attention this has received," she says. "I did not see some of this coming, but it's been amazing. I've gotten hundreds of e-mails and messages from people I know and people I don't know. I'm feeling really humbled and blessed."

Falsone also has some advice for other female athletic trainers who want to follow in her footsteps and become the second or third woman to be named a head athletic trainer in pro sports.

"I think the best advice is to focus and hone in on your skills," she says. "The position of an athletic trainer is not gender-specific. If athletic training students continue to just focus on their skill and improve their expertise and figure out how to help athletes through injuries, that's what will make them successful. It doesn't matter what their gender is."

Mike Phelps is an Assistant Editor at Training & Conditioning.
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