LOS ANGELES – If your child is a California high school student athlete and gets injured, do they have a certified athletic trainer nearby?
Statistics show it's highly unlikely. And the Los Angeles Rams are aiding the push in making sure that changes.
"I think it's important because our youth is important," Rams Vice President of Sports Medicine and Performance Reggie Scott told theRams.com Thursday after speaking at the second Team Up for Sports Safety Forum, which is planned and hosted by the Korey Stringer Institute (KSI) in conjunction with the California Athletic Trainers' Association (CATA), the National Athletic Trainers' Association (NATA) and National Football League (NFL). "That's what creates and unites the action. But I think other the good thing about it, too, is that it's very preventable. This is something that we can fix with the proper healthcare professionals and proper licenses and regulations."
Authored by Dr. Akilah Weber, recently-introduced AB 796 would establish the California Board of Athletic Training within the Department of Consumer Affairs to exercise licensing, regulatory, and disciplinary functions under the act. It would also prohibit a person from practicing as an athletic trainer or using certain titles or terms without being licensed by the board.
The bill is driven by nationwide numbers that present a startling picture when its scope is narrowed to California.
Nationally, nearly 300 sport-related high school catastrophic injuries and more than 80 sport-related high school deaths have occurred in the past five years, with 90 percent of these deaths occurring due to cardiac arrest, heat/neck injuries, exertional heat stroke and exertional sickling. At the moment, states only mandate an average of 54 percent of the policies proven to reduce these deaths. The leading states in the country – Florida, New Jersey, Georgia, Kentucky and New Hampshire – require an average of 79 percent.
In contrast, California currently mandates only 31 percent of those policies despite seeing 34 high school athletes die and 92 sustain catastrophic sports-related injuries from 2005-2020. Of those deaths, 88 percent were due to three injuries: Cardiac (69 percent), head/neck (13 percent) and heat stroke (6 percent).
Furthermore, California has 800,000 high school athletes, yet just 56 percent of schools have access to an athletic trainer. CATA estimates that about 20 percent people employed as athletic trainers in California high schools have not graduated from a Commission on Accreditation of Athletic Training Education Accredited program or passed a national certification exam, potentially placing thousands of youth at great risk.
Most stunning, California is also the only state in the entire country that does not regulate athletic trainers.
"I think (preventability) is number one, because once you can get licensures and we get respected as an allied healthcare professional, then hopefully, eventually, it gets to where we start mandating these new athletic trainers at every secondary high school," said Scott, who also serves as President of the Professional Football Athletic Trainers Society. "Like we talked about, 800,000 student athletes, 56 percent have (access to) athletic trainers, and how many are not certified athletic trainers? That's an issue. So I think once we get the licensure, the next step then is to really start regulating and mandate to try to make sure there's no youth sports that go on that don't have the proper medical coverage)."
According to a 2019 study on Access to Athletic Trainer Services in California Secondary Schools, nearly half (47.6 percent) of California high schools did not employ an athletic trainer (representing 191,626 or 28.9 percent of student athletes). Additionally, eight percent of student athletes participated at a school that employed an unqualified health personnel as an athletic trainer.
What is closest to the Rams' support of this is that is very much a social justice issue, in terms of under-resourced areas lacking athletic trainers.
"My kids, God willing, they're going to have the financial means to have a lot of care," former Rams left tackle Andrew Whitworth, who also spoke at Thursday's forum, told theRams.com on Thursday. "I'm worried about the kids who don't have that opportunity, and there's an obligation to this state in my opinion, to make sure that every kid, no matter where they go to school, when they step on a field and they step out in sports in high school, they can feel secure that their life is in good hands. And that they can trust the people that are taking care of them, and that we are overseeing that those are the best-qualified people, educated people, in their position at each one of these schools. They all deserve the same account."
Whitworth's storied longevity of a 16-year NFL career at one of the game's most demanding positions is well-documented. He said having that certified care at the high school level is critical, because he doesn't know if he would be where he is today if not for the care he received in high school – especially given that he played almost every sport his school offered.
"So there's lots of opportunities for injuries and mistakes and everything else and they happen," Whitworth said. "It's a guarantee that kids are gonna get hurt playing a sport, just how severe they are, so the best healthcare for each one of those situations is what we should always be shooting for. But to think that we're starting from a place where that person's not even certified in the majority of injuries is just insane to me. It makes zero sense and it's something that has to be fixed."