When Paolo Gilleran’s classmate sent him a post advertising the NFL’s Diversity in Sports Medicine Pipeline Initiative, he immediately began piecing together how he could participate in what he describes as a “once in a lifetime opportunity.”

Currently a student at Morehouse School of Medicine, Gilleran was born in the Philippines in the capital city Manila, and in 2000 he immigrated to Columbus, Georgia. He’s always enjoyed sports and he grew up being an Atlanta Falcons and Miami Heat fan. After completing an undergrad in nursing at Georgia State University he began applying to medical schools.

Gilleran revealed Morehouse was at the top of his list of medical schools because of “Their social mission to increase health equity amongst minorities and other populations.”

He’s also well aware of the benefits that diversity brings to health care.

“Increasing diversity in sports medicine is a good thing, it gives different life experiences,” Gilleran says. “Different life experiences give you different views on different issues. More points of view on a single solution give you a better outcome, period. It decreases bias in the healthcare field of different diseases and populations. Nobody will get hurt. It only increases patient outcomes.”

This is the thinking the NFL hoped to increase when launching the Diversity in Sports Medicine Pipeline Initiative.

The initiative provides medical students at the four Historically Black Colleges and Universities medical schools an opportunity to complete a clinical rotation with NFL club medical staff. Gilleran and Eddie Gontee will complete one month of clinical rotations with the Atlanta Falcons.

Gilleran, Gontee and Omolayo Dada are three Morehouse School of Medicine students who are participating in this initiative. Thirteen other students from different HBCUs were chosen for the initiative and have been assigned to work with the Cincinnati Bengals, Los Angeles Chargers, Los Angeles Rams, New York Giants, San Francisco 49ers, Tennessee Titans, and Washington Commanders.

The NFL Plans to broaden the program in 2023 and will expand by recruiting students from additional academic institutions and medical disciplines and placing those students with medical staff at more NFL clubs.

Dada is currently wrapping up her emergency medicine clinical rotation at Emory and will be heading to San Francisco at the end of September to begin her time with the San Francisco 49ers. Dada, a native of Lagos, Nigeria, moved to Aurora, Colorado at 9-years-old. As a child, Dada would attend the AIDS day program in Nigeria with her mother who is a nurse. This gave Omolayo her first inkling that working in healthcare was her life’s purpose.

Dada originally planned to complete her undergraduate studies in Colorado, but while attending an HBCU fair at her high school she met a Norfolk State University representative who told her about DNMIAS, a program designed to address the shortage of minority graduates with science, tech, and engineering degrees. Dada participated in DNMIAS her sophomore and junior years and went on to play two years of volleyball and complete her undergrad at Norfolk.

Dada believes the NFL’s initiative will be beneficial to athletes as well as the future generation of medical students hoping to work in sports medicine. While discussing the future generation of health care workers, she spoke about the impact of representation.

“If you don’t see yourself as something, how can you become that,” Dada says.

The NFL Physicians Society (NFLPS) stated that 86% of its members identify as white, and the Professional Football Athletic Trainers Society (PFATS) stated that 65% of its members identify as white. Representation continues to be subpar.

“It brings a lot of trust when you see someone like yourself, you tend to relate more with someone that looks like you,” Dada explained, considering how athletes will benefit from the initiative. “The NFL is roughly 68% Black and African American, while only 9% of the NFL’s physicians identify as Black/African American.”

Dada’s sentiment echoes NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell’s statement when he announced the initiative this past summer. “Increasing diversity across every role in our league and at our clubs is essential,” Goodell said. “Diversity makes us stronger.”

Words by: Sabryna Crutchfield