Late owner Al Davis made sure the Oakland Raiders were arguably the NFL’s most progressive franchise. The Raiders had the league’s first Hispanic head coach (Tom Flores), its first modern-era black head coach (Art Shell), and its first female team CEO (Amy Trask).
Davis has been gone for several years, but that pioneering heritage continues.
Kelsey Martinez, assistant strength and conditioning coach
The Raiders have hired their first-ever female assistant coach and only the second female strength and conditioning coach in league history, Kelsey Martinez.
Martinez, a 26-year-old Colorado State graduate, came to the Raiders via Tom Shaw. Shaw was hired earlier this year by Jon Gruden to be the team’s strength and conditioning coordinator, but he’s spent years training elite athletes including NFL players at his Tom Shaw Performance facility, which is based at ESPN’s Wide World of Sports at Walt Disney World.
(Shaw worked with Gruden for his “Gruden QB Camp” series on ESPN.)
Martinez worked at Tom Shaw Performance for four years before coming to the Raiders. In a profile by Michael Gehlken of the Las Vegas Review-Journal, Martinez calls Shaw “the closest thing to a father figure to me.”
A native of Pueblo, Colorado, Martinez played softball at Bethany College in Kansas before transferring to Colorado State, graduating with a degree in exercise science.
Inspiring to many
When she’s working, Martinez said she doesn’t think about being a trailblazer (the New York Jets had the first female strength coach, Lee Brandon, in 1990), but her fellow coaches and the players have made sure to thank her.
“That’s when it started to hit: ‘Oh, wow. This is a big deal’,” she said. “To be an inspiration is huge.”
Jemal Singleton, the Raiders’ running backs coach, and special teams coordinator Rich Bisaccia have thanked Martinez, particularly for being an inspiration to their daughters.
“I have five sisters, and I have three daughters,” Bisaccia said. “For them to be able to, along with other females, see that she’s accomplished this goal is going to give them a chance to realize, ‘wow, this is a path I can take.’ … She carries herself extremely professionally. She’s incredibly knowledgeable in what she’s trying to teach these guys. She hasn’t missed a beat with the players.
“Once a pro player feels like you’re knowledgeable and you can help them get better, they’re going to listen to you. And I feel like with Kelsey, that was evident right away, not only to the coaches but certainly to the players.”
Martinez has authority, gets results
While working at Tom Shaw Performance, Martinez trained NFL players, including several members of the Raiders: nose tackle Bruce Ellis, defensive ends Bruce Irvin and Shakir Soto and linebacker James Cowser.
According to Cowser, his improved sprinting technique is because of Martinez.
“She’s super awesome,” he said. “I mean, there’s a reason I went to Tom Shaw in the offseason, right? When I first met her, from the beginning, she opens her mouth, and you instantly know she knows what she’s talking about. It’s the same reaction here with all the guys. At first glance, you’re like, ‘Wow, that’s a woman.’ And then they start talking, and it’s, ‘Oh, that’s a coach.’ You know what I mean? It’s that instant switch of, ‘Oh, that’s interesting,’ to, ‘Oh, I need to get my feet up.’
“It instantly becomes business, and that’s what it’s all about. I think that’s a testament to her and who she is because she’s able to get us to switch into work mode. We don’t think about male-female whatever. It’s just business and how can we get better.”
The offensive line has also lost weight and been better able to keep up with the practice pace of line coach Tom Cable, in part thanks to Martinez.
Martinez is more concerned about how young she is than being a woman.
“Don’t create limits on yourself. There’s many excuses or whatever that can be made, but at the end of the day, what do you love to do?,” she said. “I was able to find what I love to do, and that’s working for Jon Gruden every day. ‘Do you love football?’ That’s his number one question. Do you love football? Do you love what you do? Why limit yourself or who you are if that’s what you want?
“I didn’t let that try to ever stop me. More than anything, I’m thinking of how young I am coming in here versus me being a girl. You can’t limit yourself.”
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