Nov 7, 2017
Double Duty

By Maria Hutsick

Maria Hutsick, MS, LAT, ATC, CSCS, is Head Athletic Trainer at Medfield (Mass.) High School and former Director of Sports Medicine at Boston University. She is a past president of the College Athletic Trainers’ Society and was honored with an NATA Athletic Trainer Service Award in 2010. She can be reached at: [email protected].

Fall is football season for many youth, middle school, high school, college, and professional athletes. Football is a violent and graceful game. I love it, but I know that terrible injures can occur while playing it.

This brings me to the topic of football versus athletic trainers. While many schools do have an athletic trainer on staff who covers football, many more do not. Recently, I was made aware of several incidents in my area pertaining to football and athletic trainers that got my blood boiling. As a result, I want to address the misconception that if your school has an athletic trainer, any visiting football team has a right to use that person if they need him or her.

Before I go further, let me say this: It is true that athletic trainers often provide coverage for visiting non-football teams at the high school level. Both teams come off the same sideline, have maybe 25 athletes on a team, and do not have many injuries during competition. In my league, we even passed a rule that freshman and j.v. football teams have to come off the same sideline because the home athletic trainer provides coverage for both teams.

It is my opinion that if your school has the money to fund a football team, they have the money to fund an athletic trainer. If not, don’t have a football team.

However, none of these squads experience the amount of injuries that occur during a varsity football game. A varsity football team plays with much more at stake–the town is watching, the boys are bigger and faster, and they are playing for a chance to go to the Super Bowl in Massachusetts or a state championship. Each team has 40 to 55 athletes, and injuries occur roughly every five to 10 plays. Therefore, to expect one athletic trainer to cover both sidelines on opposite sides of the field is ridiculous, stupid, and unrealistic.

In my league, we are making changes to ensure this doesn’t remain a practice. We are asking our athletic directors to contact all non-conference schools we play in football and inform them that they must contact us prior to a game if they do not have an athletic trainer. The visiting team will also have to pay us at least $100 per game, provide radios for each sideline, and inform the refs that we will drive our carts to the other sideline when we receive a call.

Yet, I don’t think this policy goes far enough. I do not want to be responsible for the other team–I don’t care how much they pay. I don’t know the athletes, and the coaches may not be cooperative. Plus, I don’t want the liability of that team on my license that I have worked for 40 years to maintain.

And there’s no guarantee that the policy would work, either. Earlier this season, we had one school in our league host a team that did not bring an athletic trainer. A player on the visiting team broke his neck. The home athletic trainer had to spine board the athlete, and the football coach of the home team had the nerve to complain that she was not on his sideline taking care of his team. Yet, neither he nor the athletic director backed the athletic trainer when she asked to have the visiting team pay for her services and allow her to drive her cart across the field if they needed her care.

It is my opinion that if your school has the money to fund a football team, they have the money to fund an athletic trainer. If not, don’t have a football team. It is not acceptable that a visiting varsity football team thinks they have the right to utilize the other school’s athletic trainer. You wouldn’t expect the home coach to coach the visiting team. Therefore, don’t think athletic trainers should provide coverage for the visiting team.

I urge all athletic directors and athletic trainers to realize that football–while a great game–needs the protection and care of certified athletic trainers for both teams. If you can’t afford an athletic trainer, then you should not have a football team. We need to pass a law that requires this.

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