With Damar Hamlin in mind, every high school should have an athletic trainer
On Jan. 2, during an NFL game between the Buffalo Bills and Cincinnati Bengals, Bills safety Damar Hamlin reportedly experienced commotio cordis, an almost immediate abnormal heart rhythm and cardiac arrest following a blow to the chest. After receiving emergency care from both teams’ medical staffs and local paramedics, Hamlin was transported and admitted to University of Cincinnati Medical Center. The on-field medical personnel have been rightfully credited in providing Hamlin’s initial, lifesaving care — Bills’ Assistant Athletic Trainer Denny Kellington’s prompt CPR has been repeatedly highlighted.
What happened to Hamlin is rare in sports. It is great he received immediate, effective care, but what if he were not an NFL player? What if he were playing for your local high school? Would an athletic trainer have been nearby to administer the same timely care?
If you are a Washington state high school athlete, there would be a 43% chance your school would not have an athletic trainer. That likelihood isn’t much better nationally. According to the National Athletic Trainers Association, 34% of American high schools have no athletic training services. Of those that do, only 53% have a full-time athletic trainer.
Sports are incredibly beneficial for kids. The physical, social and emotional advantages of participation should be appreciated while understanding the injury risks. Injuries happen, and when they do, the care an athlete receives can greatly affect the balance of these benefits and risks.
This dichotomy makes the lack of athletic trainers in our schools so alarming. Athletic trainers are highly-trained, certified and licensed health care professionals in sports medicine. They contribute to athlete safety at every level of play. Among their many duties, they dedicate countless hours creating and rehearsing emergency action plans, preparing for any scenario that might occur during practice or competition. This planning is essential, and having them as a member of a high school’s health care team is a big step in providing the best care for every athlete.
High schools need quality athletic training services and well-trained team physicians. What can be done to make them attainable?
If you’re a parent or coach, speak with your school’s athletic director or administration on how they support their athletic trainers. If they don’t have one, speak with them about what emergency action plan is in place for practices and games, where automatic emergency defibrillators are located on the premises and if they provide on-site information about sudden cardiac arrest and other injuries. Also discuss with your local PTA the importance of athletic trainers and asking your high school to hire one on a part-time or, preferably, full-time basis.
If you’re an athletic director or administrator, discuss with your athletic trainer(s) how they can be more supported throughout the year. If your school doesn’t have one, consider hiring an athletic trainer and/or prioritize rehearsing and updating your high school’s emergency action plan.
Education is imperative for athlete safety, so continuously providing athletic trainers ample resources like videos and articles is needed for safer sports. Athletic trainers are learning treatment techniques and best practices year-round — that’s why this education is prioritized at The Sports Institute at UW Medicine, the National Athletic Trainers Association and the Washington State Athletic Trainers Association.
Athletic trainers should be present at every high school. While the expense of hiring them at many schools has been prohibitive, efforts to fund sports should include a focus on both participation and a focus on safety. Hamlin’s experience illustrates the important role of athletic trainers as essential members of health care teams, and as parents, we should require the highest level of oversight and care for our kids. We should settle for nothing less.