GladiatHers® Spotlight: Kala Flagg MPT, ATC, CSCS — Sports & Dance Physical Therapist

GladiatHers® is an organization dedicated to inspiring, connecting and empowering women, especially women in sports. In an effort to fulfill our mission, highlight the everyday stories of women who are making their mark in the world and the sports industry. Welcome to the GladiatHers® Spotlight, the series where you get to meet and connect with amazing women in sports.

Next up next on GladiatHers® Spotlight: Kala Flagg, Sports & Dance Physical Therapist & Concussion Spotter.

Most people know what a physical therapist is, but what is a concussion spotter?

An concussion spotter, is a position that was developed around 2012 to address concerns related to head injuries that occurred during football games but seemed to go un-evaluated. What most people don’t realize when watching any sport is that, although we are trained, the sight line of the field makes it very difficult to see everything, including players who may have gotten “dinged” during a play but somehow make it to the huddle or even to the sidelines and hide. The medical staff on the field also doesn’t have the privilege of camera angles or instant replay, so if they’re attending to one injured player, they may not recognize that another player was injured on the same play. So the role of the concussion spotter is to view the game from a higher vantage point and communicate directly to the on field medical staff and game officials about potential head injuries. It has evolved over the years and other medical staff are involved, but each year there seems to be progress in its implementation.

Wow! I had no idea that there were positions designed specifically for that! How did you end up becoming an physical therapist and spotter?

As a track athlete growing up, I realized early in high school that I wanted to be in sports medicine. I slowed down my running because of knee problems and started going to the library to get books about sports injuries. From there I started taking care of my teammates and helping them reach their potential. I carried that into college. I went to Howard University where I graduated with a B.S. in Health Sciences and a Masters of Physical Therapy. I worked with the athletes in between classes and I made connections with people along the way that have literally helped pave the way all the way up to Division I colleges, the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater and professional football. I also actually concurrently manage my own company, TEAM Sports Injury Consulting. We have gone from providing one-on-one rehabilitation and injury prevention for athletes and dancers to providing health promotion and wellness education for active people, especially those with prior injuries.

What should we know about concussions?

I think it’s important for the public to understand that the diagnosis of a “concussion” is not one that’s thrown around, and just like anything else, it requires full examination before it can be determined. This is often done by a team within the team of primary medicine physicians, neurologists and other specialists. But the most important piece of the puzzle is to recognize signs and symptoms that may present themselves immediately, and we take that very seriously. Ultimately, treating the whole athlete is very important, because it takes someone who knows the normal behavioral pattern of each athlete to recognize certain changes that can help with diagnosis and treatment.

You are the first African American woman to be a concussion spotter in football. How does it feel to be able to make such strides for women and people of color in the sports field?

Yes, to my knowledge, I am the first black woman to hold this position. We do have a handful of women of other races who are doing the same work. There are also other women in different positions within head injury management. While we do not handle the day-to-day operations with teams specifically, it is still a step in the right direction. I do feel honored to be considered for this position, and know that I am more than qualified, but I also look forward to a day when we don’t have to say “the first black woman…”, and we can just be in position to do the job and do it well just like anyone else.

I have always said that if I had the opportunity to be the first, I would take it primarily so that I could open the door for the ones coming behind me. I applaud leagues like the NBA for quietly employing women on team medical staffs for years, and I hope that other leagues will do the same. We recognize the challenges that are presented, but it’s time that we begin to level this playing field inside of the locker room and demonstrate that we are competent professionals who are capable of getting the job done with integrity and excellence. 

What advice would you give to other women trying to break into the sports medicine world?

Have a vision and be persistent. We can do everything that men can do in sports medicine, but you have to know that you need help and a network is important. Also, maintain professionalism, have a willingness to learn at all times and be a good worker and communicator is imperative. What you know is only half the battle, but how to apply it successfully is a huge part of breaking that ceiling and getting into places where a woman hasn’t been before.

What do you want our readers to know about the field of sports medicine?

There are multiple careers that make up sports medicine- orthopedic surgeon, primary care Dr, PT, athletic trainer, sports psychology, sports neurologist, etc. so there are so many ways to contribute to sports from the medical aspect. And it’s a great pathway for former athletes because you understand what athletes need at the most basic level. We are the ones in the locker room with day to day contact with the athletes so trust and relationship are important. But boundaries and professionalism are also of the utmost importance because one women’s actions reflect on every woman in this position or who ever hopes to be in this position.

Thank you so much for your time, amazing insight and the groundbreaking work that you, Kala! Follow and get in contact with Kala on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

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