By Dale Grooms, ATC
NATA Secondary School Athletic Trainers' Committee
District Four Representative
This past January, during the opening of NATA Joint Committee Meeting in Dallas, I looked around the room and I was in awe of the how many people are volunteering their time and effort to make our organization better. Then I noticed, how ethnically non-diverse we are, and my mind started spinning. During this same meeting I listened to Murphy Grant, former chair of the NATA Ethnic Diversity Advisory Committee, speak about the great work his committee was doing. I was struck by a simple yet profound comment, “Diversity is everyone’s responsibility.”
I work at a school that is predominantly Caucasian and Judeo-Christian, and those four words really stuck a chord with me; diversity is everyone’s responsibility. It made me ask the question, “How do I interact with those who are of different race, ethnicity, religion and sexual orientation? Am I doing enough to ensure I am providing a safe environment for my athletes?
An easy way to find out is to go straight to the source; ask the athletes. I not only asked kids in my own school, but from other schools as well. I was very happy to hear all the athletes say they felt comfortable and safe in the athletic training room and school.
I asked a young African-American man from another school, who happens to be a big rival of ours, “How can I ensure you feel comfortable and safe here?” His answer was simple; “Treat me like I am one of YOUR athletes.” My follow-up question was, “Have you not been treated well by a host school before?” and sadly he said yes. Later, I wish I had asked if he felt this was due to race, or simply because he was a visiting player.
I was very curious about another one of my players, who practices Islam, if he felt any racism in in the athletic training room or the school. He said no. As we talked further, he did disclose he will occasionally hear Islamic jokes. I asked him how it made him feel, since I was sure it hurt. He stated, “Not really, for I know the kids don’t mean me, as a person. They tell me right away we don’t mean you.” This made me think about growing up as a kid and the different ethnic jokes that were common; for me it was Polish jokes. Since I was curious, I asked athletes if Polish jokes were still common and they stated, no. They had never heard a “Polish” joke, but we do hear a lot of jokes about Jewish people.
Finally, my own daughter was registering for her classes at college. She was talking with her fellow incoming freshman students about racism as they were prepping for class registration. She stated that many of her soon to be schoolmates of non-Caucasian descent stated that they felt a lot of racism in their communities and schools. They just want to be accepted for who they are.
I do not have answers on how to solve these very important issues of racism, but we as care providers need to ensure that we do everything in our power to treat all athletes equally and respectfully. Do not be afraid to do a self-evaluation on your treatment of your patients. If we model to all of our athletes the great care that athletic training provides, regardless of background, we will encourage others to do so as well. We can promote a more diverse workforce within our profession; making all of us better. Diversity is everyone’s responsibility.
For more information, you can find resources related to diversity and read the Cultural Competence and Diversity in Athletic Training article from the February 2015 NATA News.