Feb 23, 2017
NATM 2017: Honoring Pinky Newell

As part of our celebration of National Athletic Training Month 2017, Training & Conditioning is highlighting five significant contributions that have tremendously impacted the field of athletic training. This week, we are focusing on the work of William “Pinky” Newell, ATC, PT — a man who some would call the “father of modern-day athletic training.”


The NATA might never have become the organization it is now if it were not for William “Pinky” Newell, ATC, PT, who spent roughly 35 years serving Purdue University, first as its Head Athletic Trainer, then as Chief Physical Therapist at the University Hospital until his retirement in 1984. According to a 1983 article from The Physician and Sportsmedicine and reprinted in the Journal of Athletic Training, the first attempt to organize the NATA in 1944 failed due to war and regional quarreling. NATA appeared again in 1950, financed by the Cramer Chemical Company. But in 1955, the organization decided to distance itself from the commercial segment and elected Newell as Executive Secretary.

Back in those days, Newell said the early athletic trainer was “an eccentric character, primarily a ‘rubber’ who used liniment, wisecracks, and rough inspiration for the treatment of almost everything.” But Newell had visions to change that perception.

Educated in athletic training and physical therapy, one of his first initiatives was to establish having a bachelor’s degree as a requirement to join the NATA. As part of this, he helped in creating and approving an education program for entry into schools of physical therapy, which helped pave the way for the current athletic training education model.

Not only did Newell raise standards in education, he also helped establish the first set of athletic training certification requirements. In addition, he created the NATA constitution and first code of ethics with the help of Howard Waite, ATC, who was the Head Athletic Trainer at the University of Pittsburgh at the time. And he played a prime role in creating the Joint Commission on Sports Safeguards and Medical Aspects of Sports Committee.

Perhaps Newell is best known for his work to have the NATA recognized as a professional association. And his work paid off, as NATA became recognized by many organizations, including the NCAA, U.S. Olympic Association, and the American College Health Association.

The culmination of Newell’s effort in this endeavor came in the form of a telegram from Fred Hein, PhD, then-Director of Health Education for the American Medical Association (AMA) and the AMA’s Committee on the Medical Aspect of Sports. Received on June 22, 1967, this telegram informed Newell that the AMA House of Delegates had voted to recognize the NATA as a professional organization.

Many attribute this accomplishment directly to Newell.

“The NATA might have faltered in gaining recognition had it not been for Pinky’s energy, drive, and persistence,” Allan Ryan, MD, then-Chair of the AMA Committee on the Medical Aspects of Sports, told The Physician and Sportsmedicine. “It also helped to broaden the outlook of the AMA to a lot of other public groups.”

Newell took this drive with him even after retirement from NATA Executive Secretary in 1968. He remained active on the NATA’s committees on education and professional advancement, helped increase the number of schools offering NATA-approved curriculum for athletic training, and worked to establish scholarships for students entering into athletic training education.

He remained excited about athletic training until his death in October 1984, and his legacy lives on in today’s sports medicine professionals.

“I remember in the olden days we used to sit around the lobby of a hotel and say ‘Who’s going to take care of this when we’re gone?’ Well, by golly, you don’t have to worry,” he told The Physician and Sportsmedicine in 1983. You can walk into a meeting now

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