With the NATA’s official start in 1950, athletic trainers are part of a relatively young professional field. Since then, the industry has come a long way for female athletic trainers.
In 2000, Julie Max, MEd, ATC, Head Athletic Trainer at California State University, Fullerton, became the first female president of the NATA. When she began her career, Max was one of few women in the field.
As she assumed her role, Max told Training & Conditioning that she hoped the publicity the topic was getting would help promote the profession.
“I’m very proud to be the first woman in this position, but I think a first in any arena is going to draw more attention than normal,” she said. “I hope that at the end of my tenure, the evaluation of the success of my presidency will not be based on gender.”
Less than 10 years after Max was chosen as NATA president, Major League Baseball welcomed its first female athletic trainer when Sue Falsone, ATC, SCS, CSCS, was hired to be the Head Athletic Trainer by the Los Angeles Dodgers. Until she left the team in 2013, Falsone earned players’ trust and respect through her expertise with injury management.
“I think the best advice is to focus and hone in on your skills,” Falsone told T&C. “The position of an athletic trainer is not gender-specific. If athletic training students continue to just focus on their skill and improve their expertise and figure out how to help athletes through injuries, that’s what will make them successful. It doesn’t matter what their gender is.”
Despite these promising steps, there is still a gender gap in athletic training. This may shift over time, partly due to the number of female athletic trainers who now work with high school and college student-athletes.
“The younger and up-and-coming professional athletes don’t really have an issue with [female athletic trainers] because at this point, they’ve grown up with it,” Max told Sporting News in 2016. “If it’s not that big of a deal to them, then it becomes less of a big deal for the organization.”
There are still issues relating to a difference in pay scale as well as the logistics of the position. One challenge Falsone faced was where to change after games.
“When I went to the original Wrigley Field, there was not even a bathroom in the manager’s office, so I’d have to stand with the fans in the concourse to use the bathroom,” Falsone told Sporting News. “Or, there’d be no place for me to change, so I’d change in the janitor’s closet, and there’d be a broom and a mop and that whole thing.”
Ariko Iso, ATC, currently the Head Football Athletic Trainer at Oregon State University, was the first female athletic trainer in the NFL. She worked for the Pittsburgh Steelers from 2002-2011, and while she had a positive experience with the team, she recognized there were work-life costs that may keep some women from following a similar path.
“As a female [the athletic training field] is very competitive, and then you get married, you have a family, you get time off … sometimes it’s hard to accommodate those changes while you’re in charge of football,” Iso told Sporting News. “Unless you’re going to take a year off from your job, it could be difficult to juggle with games and that work-life balance. I think for those people who want to have a family, I think there may be a glass ceiling.”
Despite these challenges, some say the progress cannot be denied. Current NATA president Scott Sailor, EdD, ATC, estimates that slightly more than half of the organization’s members are women and believes that the state of the industry reflects society.
“In recent years, we’ve been able to look at the women in our profession as some of those that are real groundbreakers,” Sailor told Sporting News. “We’ve seen them take positions in areas where only 20 years ago, society would have said, ‘There will NEVER be a woman working with an NFL team.”