The rank and file uprising by intercollegiate athletes rose to an unprecedented level over the weekend when the Grambling football team boycotted its game against Jackson State. This occurred on the heels of football players from Georgia, Georgia Tech and Northwestern displaying the acronym APU (All Players United) on their wristbands and equipment during games.
While Grambling's players are pushing for health-related upgrades to unsafe and unsanitary athletic facilities and equipment, other athlete-oriented support groups are advocating for concussion reform and financial support for injured athletes. All of these protests ignore, however, a significant void permeating most levels of intercollegiate athletics -- the egregious inadequacy of training and medical staff to render immediate and ongoing diagnosis, treatment and care of all levels of injuries and health hazards (i.e. outbreaks of staph infections suffered by Grambling players).
For example, the Grambling website lists just two training staff members to cover upwards of 275 athletes (let alone the numerous teams and their practices and games). Believe it or not, this ratio is more the norm than the exception at most collegiate programs below BCS level schools.
This need is not only overlooked by athletes and their advocacy groups but the lack of attention by the NCAA and individual schools borders on negligence. As a former college coach, I have experienced first-hand the frustration and worry associated with conducting practices and games with little or no medical support immediately available.
The real problem at hand is that the majority of collegiate athletes are lucky to even cross paths with a trainer on a daily basis. Anyone who has played, coached or has been associated with a college sport team understands that certified athletic trainers are a scarce commodity, particularly at the DII and DIII levels. What's worse is that there are no overarching guidelines for universities nor are their athletic interests prescient or sufficiently funded to do so. Schools may have their own checks, balances, and or requirements, but nothing is universal.
Accordingly, I found the debate surrounding whether a primary care physician or an orthopedic surgeon is adequate coverage at Penn State football practices to be almost laughable if this overall state of affairs weren't so alarming. A much more relevant representation of the state of affairs in college athletics outside of the "one-percenters" is contained in email evidence related to a federal lawsuit seeking class-action status on behalf of four former college athletes claiming that the NCAA doesn't do enough to protect athletes from head injuries.
Former Division III football player Rickey Hamilton emailed the NCAA directly stating, "There are multiple players on my team who have suffered injuries and have not had the correct treatment for them. We are trying to see what we can do about this because this is not fair to the student athletes who put their all into something and can't even get the proper treatment needed." (Fenno)
The NCAA has typically responded to these notices and allegations by taking the position that each school is responsible for the welfare of athletes and that risk can't be completely removed from athletics. Thus, while abdicating responsibility, the NCAA is pointing the finger at its member institutions (while also throwing them under the bus overflowing with lawyers about to file impending lawsuits).
Instead of passing blame, the NCAA should be instituting athletic health care standards across all collegiate sports and dedicate a portion of the billions of dollars that flow to both the organization and the BCS to underwriting adequate medical staffing across all levels of intercollegiate athletics.
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