“We have strong instincts”: How female trainers are making waves on men’s professional sports teams

While 45% of athletic trainers in the U.S. are women, many still haven’t broken into the top spots in men’s sports leagues. That’s where Jessica Cohen and Stephanie Ludwig come in — they’re both making waves in the professional sports scene.

Recently named head athletic trainer for the Portland Trail Blazers, Cohen is the only woman to currently hold the title in the NBA. A few miles away, Ludwig was just promoted to the same position for Major League Soccer’s Portland Timbers — the first in that team’s history.

“I’m super proud of myself and it needs to continue to happen, right? Especially women in leadership positions,” Ludwig told CBS News. “This is more important than me. So I wear that with pride.”

The women, who are both from the Midwest and in their early 30s, say they’re embracing their roles in a predominantly male profession. 

“She’s been helping me a lot,” Trail Blazers player Trendon Watford said. “She’s rehabbing my knee. Trying to strengthen my knee up and just take care of me so I can get back on the court.”

The goal for Ludwig, she said, is to make sure each player knows she always has their back.

“Sometimes the athletic training room, especially, is some of the most vulnerable space that an athlete can be in,” she said. “Whether it’s they’re actually injured or they’re coming in and they’re like, ‘Man, I’m worried that I can’t perform my job.'”

The trainers may be tough and tenacious, but players said they appreciate their slightly warmer approach.

“Personally, I feel I could talk to Jessica about anything you know even off the court, mentally. You know that’s what she’s here for. She’s not just a trainer,” Watford said.

“There should be more women in the sports industry,” Portland Timbers player George Fochive said.

Ludwig said one of her strengths is her instincts.

“Women are driven by instincts. We have strong instincts. I think that the ability to listen to those and being given the platform to actually embrace them, that’s where maybe, like, we can make positive strides moving forward,” she said.

When asked if there are any differences between men and women trainers, Cohen said, “I don’t think so. I think everyone naturally gets along with certain people in different ways. Not one time did anyone say, ‘How are you going to do this job because you’re a girl?'”

Both Cohen and Ludwig see themselves as more than just leaders in their field — they’re also motivators to their teams.

“I want to be remembered as as someone who works really hard and comes to work every single day to not only do my best but maximize someone else’s best,” Ludwig said.

Despite their drive and accomplishments, there is one another thing they want to do: meet each other.

“I’m super excited for her and also want to congratulate her as well. I haven’t had the opportunity to to say it in person yet,” Ludwig said. “But, you know, it’s it’s amazing to be in the same city with somebody who is also a trailblazer and is pushing things forward.”