Jan 29, 2015
A Safe Place

abbyfunk-head.jpgBy Abigail Funk

Is your athletic training room a place where athletes feel safe from homophobia? The majority of high school athletic trainers have witnessed homophobic behavior in their athletic training rooms, according to a study presented at the Sport, Sexuality, & Culture Conference last week.

The unique conference was hosted by the Ithaca College Department of Sport Management & Media and brought together a wide spectrum of people involved in athletics. The full program can be found here.

In a session titled Athletic Trainers, Sport Medicine Professionals, & LGBT [Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender] Issues, Leah Washington, MS, ATC, Athletic Training Education Program Instructor at the University of North Carolina-Greensboro, presented a study called The Athletic Training Room as a Safe Space for Gay and Lesbian High School Athletes.

Washington and her colleagues asked 32 full-time Washington, D.C.-area certified athletic trainers to complete a 10-minute survey asking 27 questions related to witnessing homophobia among student-athletes in the athletic training room. Though more than 70 percent of the athletic trainers reported seeing homophobic behavior, when asked if they felt they created a safe space in the athletic training room, every respondent indicated they did. Washington concluded that although the athletic trainers felt they were creating a safe environment in their athletic training rooms, the high rate of homophobic behavior indicates those athletic trainers could not have been creating as safe an environment as they thought they were.

“Most athletic trainers think, ‘Oh yes, I welcome all of my athletes–of course this is a safe space,'” Washington said. “It’s hard to get them to see that they aren’t really serving everybody when they think they are. Some athletic trainers are over confident. They don’t know what they don’t know.”

Washington and others at the conference session are calling for more research in this area, and more importantly, a better effort from athletic trainers. Because many student-athletes see athletic trainers as someone to go to with a personal problem–someone to bridge the gap from the sports world–Washington says it is your duty to create a safe environment for every single student-athlete that comes through the athletic training room doors.

T&C published an article titled Out in the Open in April 2007, which put forth a few ideas for creating a safe environment for student-athletes in your athletic training room. The prevailing advice to athletic trainers was not to just sit back and say that yes, you welcome everyone, but rather to take an active role in showing you’re willing to be there as a supporter.

“Homophobia needs to be addressed directly with your assistants, graduate assistants, and anyone else who works with you,” said Jenny Moshak, MS, LAT, ATC, CSCS, Assistant Athletic Director for Sports Medicine for Women’s Athletics at the University of Tennessee. “Here at Tennessee, we talk about it during our athletic training staff retreat at the beginning of every year. My message is that in our department, every student-athlete will be served equally and not judged because of their talent, gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation, or anything else.”

To illustrate her position, Moshak has created a “diversity window” covered with stickers on the glass separating her office from the athletic training room. “I have a rainbow sticker representing gay pride, and I have the symbols for male and female,” she says. “I also have stickers representing different religions, and a handicapped sticker. Without saying anything, I’m telling people what I stand for and that our athletic training room is a safe place.”

Abigail Funk is an assistant editor at Training & Conditioning.


A Safe Place, Sexuality in Sport, and Back to the Mat – well done!
These issues and topics are the last hurdle to non-discriminatory
practices in Athletics. And it’s not just student-athletes who are
afraid to come out… it is the staff too, who often are not protected by
tenure like faculty are.

I have seen what my friends and family have gone through during
participation and working in athletics… and first hand, as a single
female in Athletics! Thank you for putting some light on this topic.

Aimee M. Brunelle, MS, ATC, EMT
Head Athletic Trainer/Adjunct Faculty – Physical Education Studies
Jamestown Community College
Jamestown NY 14701

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