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Known as one of the top athletic trainers in the National Football League, Rick Burkholder enters his 11th season with the Kansas City Chiefs in 2023 and his sixth serving as the club's Vice President of Sports Medicine and Performance. Following his promotion in 2018, he continued to oversee the athletic training staff and added the team's strength and conditioning and equipment departments to his responsibilities.
Burkholder and his staff were instrumental to the health of the team during the 2022 season which culminated in a Super Bowl LVII victory over the Eagles. As postseason injuries plagued the roster, five key players, including QB Patrick Mahomes and WR JuJu Smith-Schuster, experienced injuries during the AFC Championship win. Under Burkholder's direction, including the development and execution of their individual treatment plans, and with the aid of the athletic training staff, four of the five injured players were able to return to action for Super Bowl LVII. Smith-Schuster went on to be the team's second-leading receiver in the victory and Mahomes threw for 182 yards and three touchdowns as he was named Super Bowl MVP.
On Feb. 19, 2014, Burkholder received one of the highest honors in his profession as he was elected to a three-year term as president of the Professional Football Athletic Trainers Society (PFATS), which serves the players of the NFL, the member clubs and other members of the community, while ensuring the highest quality of health care provided to the NFL. During his term, he focused on two specific initiatives – emphasizing the need for gender equality in athletic training and the importance of athletic trainers at youth levels. During his three-year presidency, Burkholder spearheaded the implementation of a $1,000 league-wide scholarship specifically for a female training camp fellowship. Since its inception in 2015, this yearly scholarship has now contributed nearly $300,000 to advancing women in athletic training.
After his term, Burkholder has continued to be recognized for his service to both the Chiefs and the field. In 2023, Burkholder was honored for his work with his induction into the National Athletic Trainers' Association (NATA) Hall of Fame. He was also inducted into the Pennsylvania Athletic Training Hall of Fame (2016).
In 2022, he added two more honors to his resume. The first being his NATA Service Award as recognition for his contributions to the athletic training profession as a volunteer at the local and state levels. Burkholder is actively involved in the Kansas City community, particularly with youth sports, having given educational presentations on concussions and heat and hydration as part of The University of Kansas Health System Sports Medicine and Performance Center. In 2013, he was a part of a football safety clinic geared specifically for moms at The University of Kansas Health System Training Complex. Burkholder also currently sits on the athletic trainers advisory group and served on the head, neck and spine committee and the return to play task force, all of which address the treatment and prevention of concussions in the sport. ATSA recipients have been involved in professional associations, community organizations, grassroots public relations efforts and service as a volunteer athletic trainer.
In February 2022, he earned the Fain-Cain Memorial Award for 2021 Outstanding NFL Athletic Trainer of the Year. The Fain-Cain award is named for Dr. Thomas E. Cain and Dr. Robert H. Fain, both long time team physicians for the then-Houston Oilers. The award was established shortly after Dr. Cain's death and Dr. Fain's retirement. Both physicians exhibited long term commitments to the NFL and exemplary performances. The award is given annually to an NFL athletic trainer who manifests these traits and is presented to the PFATS member who best reflects the virtues of a certified athletic trainer and displays the highest level of professionalism.
In back-to-back years, Burkholder received prestigious awards for his work on the field. First in 2017 he became just the second person and first athletic trainer to receive the NATA's President's Award, honoring his contribution to the profession after earning the NATA Most Distinguished Athletic Trainer Award in 2016. He and his staff were recognized by their peers following the 2010 season, being named the NFL's top training staff for the year.
In 2020, the NFL and the world faced a public health crisis, the coronavirus pandemic, forcing the adoption of new COVID-19 protocols across the National Football League. Burkholder became the team's Infection Control Officer (ICO), a leading member of the club's Infection Response Team (IRT). As the local ICO, Burkholder was integral in the development and execution of the club's IDER (infectious disease emergency response) plan, a document detailing how the club adapted its operations to mitigate risk, cleaning protocols, how the team complied with state and local guidelines, as well as an action plan for positive COVID-19 tests or symptoms within the staff or locker room, among other topics. Burkholder's plan was the first among all clubs to be reviewed and approved by the NFL, the NFLPA and jointly appointed infectious disease experts.
Having spent 24 years with Chiefs Head Coach Andy Reid, including 14 in Philadelphia as Reid held the same position with the Eagles (1999-2012), Burkholder became well known for his expertise in his rehabilitation programs. In 2004, an aggressive rehabilitation program allowed WR Terrell Owens to return from a surgically-repaired ankle in seven weeks to play in Super Bowl XXXIX with the Eagles. He also helped RB Duce Staley return to the field in 2001, who suffered a severe Lis Franc sprain in his foot. The process went so well that Burkholder was published and has spoken nationally on the Lis Franc injury and its rehabilitation process. In addition, Burkholder designed a rehab program for Steelers CB Rod Woodson in 1995 after he suffered a torn ACL in the season opener. Woodson returned just four and a half months after surgery to play in Super Bowl XXX. Burkholder has created specialized rehab programs for several Chiefs over the years, including several Achilles tendon injuries: LB Derrick Johnson (2014 & 2016), DE Mike DeVito (2014), WR Chris Conley (2017) and S Eric Berry (2017). He also played a major role in Berry's return to the field in 2015 after battling Hodgkin's lymphoma.
Before joining the Eagles training staff, he spent six seasons as an assistant athletic trainer with the Pittsburgh Steelers and three seasons as an assistant football athletic trainer at his alma mater, the University of Pittsburgh. A 1987 Pittsburgh graduate, Burkholder went on to earn his master's degree in athletic training from the University of Arizona where he spent two seasons as a graduate assistant and another as an assistant athletic trainer.
Burkholder is a certified athletic trainer and a member of the National Athletic Trainers Association and the Pennsylvania Athletic Trainers Society, in addition to his membership in PFATS. While with Philadelphia, he served as the NFC head athletic trainer representative on the PFATS executive committee.
Burkholder first gained NFL experience serving as a summer intern with the New England Patriots training staff in 1986. He was influenced by his father, Richard, a long-time athletic trainer at Carlisle High School, and his mother, Nancy, a registered nurse. In 2003, Burkholder and his father were named distinguished alumni of Carlisle High School, and in 2013, Burkholder was honored with the Pennsylvania Athletic Trainers Society Distinguished Merit Award.
Education:Pittsburgh (B.S. 1987), Arizona (M.S. 1989). Born:Carlisle, Pa. Family: Wife - Kristine; Children - Quinn Taylor and Carly Ann.