Ryan Clark on 2016 IMPACT25 honoree Dr. Robin West

Ryan Clark
Clark is a former NFL safety who went from being an undrafted free agent to having a 13-year career playing for the Giants, Redskins and Steelers. He won a Super Bowl ring with Pittsburgh in 2009 and retired in 2015.

I met Dr. West when she was at the Pittsburgh Steelers. She was a doctor on staff while I was a player. I was always most comfortable talking with Dr. West because it felt like one of the few judgment-free zones within the NFL medical staffs.

Dr. West is compassionate and cares about the players. Most of the time, the job of the doctor is to get you healthy enough to play -- not necessarily just get you healthy. She never treated us that way.

In 2007, I lost my spleen and gallbladder, and I was just sick. I got altitude sickness from sickle cell trait while playing in Denver. I didn't even know if I was going to live, much less play again. Every doctor there was trying to tell me that nothing was wrong. Meanwhile, I'm telling them I can't play because something was wrong. Every doctor there made me feel defective, or like I was wrong about what I was feeling. Except for Dr. West.

I was an undrafted guy who thought I could never miss anything. What she did for me was make me feel comfortable with not having to put on an air of invincibility.

Any time you're a woman in a macho, manly field, you're going to encounter obstacles. Dr. West has always handled it with class. Whatever opportunity she was given, she did it in a way that was respectful to herself and to the patient. That's hard to do in the world of football because it is such an ego-driven profession. She shows that if you're a professional and good at your job and you work hard and excel, you should be rewarded in a way that is befitting of that work. Gender doesn't matter.

Progress is a part of life and progress is possible. For my daughter, who is extremely smart, she now has an example of what can be done. I think that's cool.

More on Robin West

• Is any doc more influential than Robin West? Story »

• Pro sports doctor blazing trail for women Video »

• Redskins hire NFL's 1st female head physician Story »

• Steelers' female orthopedist part of the team Story »

The IMPACT25 is espnW's annual list of the 25 athletes and influencers who have made the greatest difference for women in sports. Explore the 2016 list and more content at espnW.com/IMPACT25.

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