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Culture on the Mend

Athletic trainers work to make their spaces welcoming for LGBTQ staff and students

Emma Nye (from right), Sean Rogers and Ashley Crossway, recent graduates of the Indiana State athletic training program, received guidance on their LGBTQ work group and research from associate professor Lindsey Eberman. Indiana State University photo

Sean Rogers found his career path via dirt bike. He suffered a nasty fall as a kid that led to hours in a rehabilitation center in rural Washington, working one-on-one with an athletic trainer to overcome his injuries.

This unintended introduction led to a growing passion for a profession that seemed to fit Rogers’ interests: health care and sports. But one concern nearly caused him to give it all up.  

As an undergraduate student, Rogers was out as a gay man and troubled by derogatory comments about the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning community, which echoed throughout the athletic training rooms where he worked. Rogers brushed off the remarks as they were uttered, but they weighed on him over time, slowly implanting doubt in a career plan he had once felt so sure of.

“I had second thoughts about whether I would feel comfortable in this profession,” he recalls. “Fortunately, I knew in the future I would be in a position to potentially address some of these issues.”  

Now, he and two of his peers in the Indiana State University doctorate in athletic training program are doing just that. 

Rogers, a recent graduate assistant athletic trainer for the Sycamores men’s basketball team, partnered with Emma Nye, a former graduate assistant for women’s volleyball, and Ashley Crossway, a classmate who worked at a nearby high school, to conduct a research project on perceptions of the LGBTQ community among athletic trainers and student-athletes. This spring, just before they graduated from the doctoral program, the three students issued surveys of athletic trainers and NCAA student-athletes that they will use to inform future advocacy and education initiatives.

The trio focused their study on three distinct areas: Rogers collected data on athletic trainers’ perceptions toward their LGBTQ colleagues. Nye concentrated on athletic trainers’ perceptions of LGBTQ student-athletes. And Crossway looked at student-athletes’ perceptions of LGBTQ athletic trainers. 

What started as research to fulfill a degree requirement quickly manifested into something more meaningful to all three students, who already were invested in LGBTQ causes. “We thought, hey, we’re doing the research, and we’ll have the data,” Rogers says, “why don’t we try to do something bigger?” 

Together he, Nye and Crossway proposed the creation of the first National Athletic Trainers’ Association-sponsored LGBTQ work group, approved by the association’s board of directors in January. Ultimately, they hope to develop resources that help practitioners establish or maintain athletic trainings rooms that are safe and welcoming spaces for all — including their LGBTQ student-athletes. 

Like Rogers, both Nye and Crossway shared similar experiences observing negative language about the LGBTQ community in athletic training rooms. A former college soccer player at Marywood who identifies as a lesbian, Nye remembers hearing hurtful comments during her playing days but wasn’t compelled to speak up. Now, she says, she feels a sense of responsibility.   

“My passion was kind of fueled when I became the athletic trainer and I was the one responsible for making this environment inclusive,” Nye says. “I want to make sure that if an athlete identifies as LGBTQ, they know this is a safe space.”

Nye took steps toward that goal as soon as she moved to Terre Haute, Indiana, from her home state of New York. To start, she worked with the executive director of the school’s Office of Multicultural Services and Programs to improve the university’s rating on the Campus Pride Index, a national benchmarking system that measures LGBTQ policies and practices at colleges and universities. Then she homed in on the athletic training room, which Nye says can sometimes feel more like an extension of the locker room rather than a professional health care facility. 

All three students are careful not to paint the issue with too broad a brush — the cultures of athletic training rooms can vary drastically from campus to campus and from team to team, and the concerns they share may not be relevant everywhere. Yet they see room for improvement, beginning with the resources that are provided for athletic trainers. 

“There’s tons of resources for transgender student-athletes, for coaches, for parents,” Nye says. “But we as athletic trainers don’t really have any of those policies or best practices for the athletic training room.”

A large portion of practitioners are hungry for that kind of guidance, according to the more than 1,200 survey responses they received. “We found that athletic trainers are almost begging for more training and education,” Nye says, noting that the most common questions revolve around transgender student-athletes and colleagues. “They want to be inclusive, and they want to treat these athletes the right way. They just don’t know how.”

Nye, Crossway and Rogers plan to analyze the data, including insight from more than 600 student-athletes, and will prepare it for publication in the coming months. During that time, the recent graduates also will be settling into the next stage of their careers — ready to put their own best practices to the test.

About Champion

Champion magazine goes behind the headlines and beyond the scoreboards to celebrate the unique connection between Americans and college sports. Champion is published by the NCAA.

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