Some of the hardest-working people in sports are often unseen, behind the scenes: in the locker rooms and on the sidelines of the world’s biggest sporting events.
They’re in charge of keeping teams’ most valuable assets — their players — healthy. Yet despite being pivotal to the sport, athletic trainers go virtually unnoticed; at least, that was the case until a 20-year-old lawsuit against Peyton Manning resurfaced last week, in which Tennessee’s former head athletic trainer alleged that Manning sexually assaulted her as she attended to his injury.
The number of women in coaching roles and in athletic director positions has increased in recent years, but men still overwhelmingly dominate the field in the top athletic training jobs. In the years since Manning’s alleged incident, the number of women holding head athletic trainer positions at Division I schools grew only 2.6 percent. At present, women hold roughly 17.5 percent of Division I head athletic trainer positions, according to a 2014 study conducted by the group Women in Collegiate Sport (WCS).
So what is keeping women out of these roles? Is it systemic gender discrimination, or something else? More importantly, do women in athletic training roles have a glass ceiling?
To understand, it makes sense to first evaluate where women are represented in the athletic training industry as a whole. National Athletic Trainers’ Association president Scott Sailor told Sporting News that he estimates about 54 percent of the 43,000 members of the NATA organization are female.
“We, like the rest of sport, are probably working to catch up,” said Sailor, mentioning the 1972 Title IX push for women’s sports plays into those numbers, which are on the upswing. “We’re an evolving profession. We’re fairly young. 1950 is really where we count the beginning of our professional association. So we’re continuing to improve and we see more and more women moving into roles that were, traditionally in the early days, male roles.”
Julie Max, former NATA president and head athletic trainer and undergraduate professor at Cal State Fullerton, says the number of female undergraduate enrollees has “doubled” in the last 20 years.
Sailor’s numbers support Max’s experience.
“We look at the graduates from colleges and universities today with accredited programs in athletic training and nearly two-thirds of those people are females coming out with degrees in athletic training,” he said.
But according to the WCS report, more than two thirds of the head athletic training jobs at universities are occupied by men.
Lori Sweeney, who was the head athletic trainer at Saint Joseph’s (Pa.) University for more than 20 years, said she didn’t feel women were underrepresented in the industry overall, “but definitely in head positions or director positions, absolutely.”
“I remember when I was only one of 13 percent of women in the country who had (a head athletic training job).”[…]