Athletic Trainers: The Unsung Heroes of Sports

Athletes are the prime example of a continuing evolution of the human race. Every new generation produces a new type of athlete, and with each new generation comes new levels of competition. The highest and most competitive sports leagues are filled to the brim with athletes that can run faster, jump higher, and throw further than athletes fifty years ago could ever hope to achieve.

LeBron James is considered by many to be the greatest athlete all time, just like Michael Jordan and Bo Jackson were considered to be the greatest athletes ever, and Jim Brown and Jim Thorpe before them. With the evolution of the athlete, there needs to be an evolution in every other aspect of sports, especially when considering the frequency of injuries in today’s sports.

These unsung heroes of the accommodation of evolution are often referred to as “glorified water boys” that put in all the work they can to keep athletes evolving, but athletic trainers are much more than that.

All across the country and even across the world, tenacious and passionate “non-athletes” sporting polo shirts and khakis tape ankles and wrists, fill ice packs and stretch the athletes. Even in high-school, at every game, match or practice, you’ll see athletic trainers line the sideline, water bottles in hand, on their toes ready to treat a sprain or a heavy fall. Padded tables are located in every locker room and clubhouse for players to lay out and be stretched out before each practice.

At this point, athletic trainers are as much a part of sports as referees and scorekeepers. With all of their involvement in sports, fans are left to wonder what life must be like for these polo-warriors.

Athletic trainers spend large amounts of time with athletes, and after so much exposure to each other friendships begin to form.

“I have really good relationships with the athletes I work with,” said Southern Utah University athletic training student Hailee Eckman. “I definitely root for the athletes I treat. I’ve become such good friends with the athletes that I want them to be successful… I think that’s my favorite part of Athletic Training.”

It makes sense that trainers and athletes would grow close, but it makes witnessing an injury much more grueling than a normal fan’s experience might be.

“It’s at the point where it’s hard to see someone who I’m friends with have to go through rehab…

A couple of weeks ago I had an athlete who had a pretty severe injury. Watching that was really hard because you’re the first responder; you see all the raw emotion that comes out,” Eckman went on to say.

Trainers are more than just trainers for the athletes they treat. It hurts to see them go down, just like it would for anyone watching someone be injured. The incredible part is that SUU athletic training students have to go out and treat their friends’ injuries.

Treatment is often done in high-pressure environments. Mistakes made by trainers in the first moments after an injury can lead to months of delays on the backend for an athlete that goes down. Athletic trainers have to get it right, and there’s very little margin for error. But we never hear about how athletic trainers cost an athlete time or their careers because it almost never happens. They almost never get it wrong.

Athletic trainers are truly the unsung heroes of sports. Can you remember the last time you saw an interview with an athletic trainer on ESPN? Probably not, and that’s understandable.

The interesting thing is that injuries are now as much as part of the sports lexicon as nicknames (March Madness) and hyperbole (America’s Team) are. It’s not outlandish to say that the average sports fan is now an amateur physician. Everyone knows the severity of an ACL tear, and everyone knows how Tommy John surgery will affect that young lefty that plays for your favorite team. Sports networks now employ former doctors and athletic trainers to address just how serious someone’s turf toe may be. Athletic trainers are the front lines when one of these injuries occur, big or small.

Imagine the most severe injury you’ve ever seen on TV or in real life. Images of Gordon Hayward, Kevin Ware, and Marcus Lattimore come to mind. Now, these are some the harshest examples of what can happen in sport, and they happen to human beings that are well-nourished and peak physical conditions. There are countless more injuries that occur during practice, walkthroughs and in the weight rooms all across highschool, collegiate and professional athletics. Somebody has to fix those injuries, and more often than not, it’s an athletic trainer that has to assess the situation and proceed cautiously and effectively.

That’s not even mentioning the game-day duties that the polo warriors carry out. Have you ever noticed that football players seemingly can’t drink water out of a squirt bottle by themselves? Someone has to squirt that water with impeccable accuracy, and it’s the athletic trainers.

Ever noticed a player with 16 pounds of tape on their wrist? Someone had to do that, and it was the athletic trainers.

Ever noticed that there’s a seemingly infinite supply of heavy water-filled Gatorade jugs? Someone has to fill those up, put in the mixing powder, stir, and carry those jugs around, and guess who does it? Spoiler alert, it isn’t the players. Yet we don’t see any athletic trainers’ names hung up in the rafters of the nation’s most historic arenas.

Jokes aside, athletes are long past the days of one-barred facemasks, and athletic trainers are far past “rubbing some dirt on it.” While athletic trainers are not the most celebrated part of sports, they play a huge role in making sports as entertaining as they are.

Athletic trainers are the unsung heroes of sports, and they make sports a whole lot easier to watch. These polo warriors deserve to be recognized as the unsung heroes that they are. Sports couldn’t be what they are without them.

Story By
Connor Sanders for SUU News

Featured Photo Courtesy of Rylie Miller