Former NFL trainer says law degree makes him a better college administrator
Recent Florida A&M College of Law grad Scott Armstrong is one of a handful of trained professionals who can spot the Achilles heel of a legal argument, and a torn Achilles on the football field.
The 37-year-old director of sports medicine for Bethune Cookman University and former NFL trainer figures there are only 10 licensed athletic trainers in the nation with a law degree — or “AT/JD’s.”
Armstrong is convinced that his legal training will help him better protect his student athletes and Bethune-Cookman University’s educational mission.
“A lot of what I do in my day job, as director sports medicine, as an athletic trainer, is risk management,” he said. “If we’re doing it in a safer way, then we’re doing a better job, and the students will see that, and the families will see that, and we’ll be a better institution.”
A San Antonio native, Armstrong began his athletic training career in high school before earning a Bachelor’s of Exercise and Sports Science from Texas State University and a Master’s in Education from the University of Houston. He earned his JD earlier this month.
Before he arrived at Bethune-Cookman five years ago, he served as sports medicine director for Lincoln University in Jefferson City, Missouri. Before that, he worked as an assistant trainer in Orlando with the United Football League, and on the NFL training staffs of the recently renamed Washington Football Team, and the Tennessee Titans.
From August of 2006 through May of 2009, he was a graduate assistant trainer at North Carolina State University.
Armstrong calls athletic programs the “front porch” of universities, highly visible appendages known for generating revenue, attention, and sometimes fame.
But he says the opposite can also be true, as the University of Maryland learned in June of 2018 when Jordan McNair, a 19-year-old football player, died of heatstroke during an off-season workout. Earlier this year, the university and the Maryland Attorney General reached a $3.5 million settlement with the student’s family.
Armstrong said he considered the Maryland tragedy, and a similar one at the University of Central Florida, when he began mulling the idea of law school.
“In collegiate athletics, five, six, seven years ago, when I was kicking this idea around, it seemed like there was a lot more litigation in my area of responsibility,” he said. “Catastrophic injuries, what’s going on at the University of Maryland…UCF, these are big deals, big issues.”
Armstrong’s day-to-day responsibilities with Bethune-Cookman’s NCAA Division 1 Wildcats include everything from strength and conditioning programs to helping injured players off the field and assessing the risk of lightning strikes.
Team doctors and trainers constantly rehearse procedures for responding to an injured player, a scenario that puts them under a microscope, Armstrong said.
“We don’t know if we’re going out for an ankle sprain or a cervical injury,” he said. “Everything we’re doing, from the time we initiate care, contact with the patient, is video recorded — you’ve really got little room for error.”
Armstrong said a law degree also made sense, considering the contracting responsibilities his job requires, and the other hats he wears at the university.
In addition to director of sports medicine, he is also the university’s “athletic health care administrator.” The position is roughly comparable to administering an HMO, and is required by the NCAA, Armstrong said.
“I oversee the health and wellness, the health care delivery system, for all of our student athletes,” he said.
For Bethune-Cookman student athletes who have health insurance through their parents, the school provides secondary insurance to cover the costs their primary insurance does not, Armstrong says.
“If a student does not have primary insurance, we will act as the primary insurance provider,” he said.
Armstrong is also responsible for investigating reports of sexual harassment or assaults under the provisions of federal Title IX, he said.
And when he’s not tending to his athletic training, health care administration, and investigative responsibilities, he teaches three classes a semester in the Bachelor of Health and Exercise Science Program — “Introduction to Sports Medicine,” “Care and Prevention of Athletic Injuries,” and “Theory of Strength and Conditioning.”
Armstrong is a clinical preceptor for Bethune-Cookman’s “Masters in Athletic Training,” a program he helped develop, and the first of its kind for an HBCU. No stranger to the rigors of academics, he knew earning a law degree would be challenging.
For four years, Armstrong has maintained a brutal routine, especially during the football season from July to November, when he works seven days a week and travels with the team.
“We would hop a charter up to D.C., or Delaware, or whatever it may be, and you would see me on the plane with a casebook,” he said.
His daily routine involved arriving at his Bethune-Cookman office in Daytona Beach between 5:30 a.m. and 7:00 a.m., leaving at 4 p.m. to drive to Florida A&M University’s Orlando campus for 6 p.m. classes, four days a week. Heavy construction on I-4 only increased the burden.
Armstrong would arrive home from law school around 10 p.m., in time to kiss his wife goodnight, and study until 1 a.m.
Before every semester, Armstrong warned his law professors that he was on call for training accidents, injuries, or to help a student athlete deal with a mental health emergency.
“So, my professors understood that if I stepped out with a phone in my hand, it was related to that, and they were okay with it,” he said. “Fortunately, it only happened a few times.”
With his work schedule, a study group was not an option, Armstrong said.
“The only thing that made this possible was the availability of night courses,” he said.
Armstrong doesn’t plan to take the Florida bar exam until February of next year.
“Universities are on a July 1 fiscal year, and this is just too busy a time right now,” he said.
The long commutes, sleep deprivation, and long hours of study were worth it, Armstrong says.
Legal training has made him a better administrator for Bethune-Cookman, and although he has no plans to leave the university, it opens doors to future career opportunities. He knows of one licensed athletic trainer with a law degree who works for the NFL Players Association. Another, David Cohen, is a former general counsel with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
“I’ve always been a little bit of an outlier with how I view sports medicine,” Armstrong said. “I felt like I saw beyond the day-to-day practice of the job, I saw what it meant to the organization, as far as risk, what it meant administratively, and going to law school certainly helped to hone that.”