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Athletic Injury Bullying: Something to Consider

All of those reading this deal with injuries on a daily basis. One thing we see on a daily basis that we probably don't recognize nearly as often as we should is bullying when it comes to injuries. While all other forms of it are more noticeable like hazing and the run of the mill intimidation tactics, athletic injury bullying is less noticeable as most people have become de-conditioned to it. It is in fact a "normal" part of athletics for some reason or another and is acceptable behavior in certain people's eyes, but why?

Bullying is basically making someone feel small because of anothers social or physical power being used against the bullied individual. It can come in the form of verbal or physical harassment, threats, or coercion. If these are the characteristics of bullying why then is it okay for coaches, fellow athletes, or Athletic Trainers to do so? These instances im referring to are:

1.) Coaches, fellow athletes, and Athletic Trainers making repeated disparaging comments to an injured athelete about their injury or being hurt

2.) Coaches making threats regarding playing time when athletes miss or have limited practices because of an injury

3.) Coaches pressuring athlets to get back in the game before they are physically let alone mentally ready to return to the game

4.) Coaches, fellow athletes, and Athletic Trainers saying the athlete isn't hurt or their injury isn't that bad

5.) Coaches and fellow athletes treating the athlete as though they aren't part of the team because they are hurt

6.) Coaches and Athletic Trainers dismissing an athlete after being told that they are in pain and being told to nothing is wrong so they have to keep playing

7.) Coaches, fellow athletes, and Athletic Trainers making fun of/teasing an injured athlete about being hurt or how long they have been hurt

8.) Fellow athlete's making comments to the injured athetes if the athlete has to sit out of certain parts of practice due to an injury

9.) Coaches not making an attempt to include in their practice plan something the athlete with limitations can be involved in ( walking through plays, non-contact drills, half court drills, fundamental drills, etc)

All 9 of these things mirror some form of verbal harassment, threats, or coercion yet it happens on a regular basis. Whether its jokingly or done with malice, the athlete being bullied at the end of the day feels small, isolated, and feels bad for something that is out of their control. The athlete never wanted to get hurt in the first place and is experiencing pain, which as we all know is experienced differently from person to person and is a phenomenon that is impossible to explain/understand. I'm sure anyone who is reading this at some point has encountered at least 1 of the above instances if not all of them. As Athletic Trainers we are supposed to be the main people advocating for our athlete's yet this is one of the way's in which we may be lacking in just because of a lack of information about it. Why does this form of bullying go on, why is it acceptable, and why isn't more being done to educate people about this? I'd love to hear people's opinion about this topic as I feel it is definitely not talked about enough amongst the Athletic Training community

Audric Warren MS, ATC, CAFS, NASM-PES, NASM-CES

Comments

  • Great Point Audric. Individuals need to understand that every athlete responds to injury in their own way. When they are indirectly pressured (bullied) into returning to quickly, the outcome can be less than optimal. Schools all across the country launch anti-bullying campaigns each year, but turn a blind eye to coaches,staff members, and students who "shame" another individual because they need a little more time to process their injury or illness and recover in a healthy way.
  • Frankly, I am insulted by your insinuation that any athletic trainer would bully an athlete into playing with an injury. Bullying is bullying and is unacceptable, but your description has gone over the top with politically correct view that we cannot ever hurt another person’s feelings. Perhaps, by your standard, we shouldn’t tell athletes when they are injured because that certainly hurts their feelings and may lead to emotional trauma. Comment #4 makes no sense in regard to athletic trainers: “4.) Coaches, fellow athletes, and Athletic Trainers saying the athlete isn’t hurt or their injury isn’t that bad”. If I can’t tell an athlete he or she is or isn’t injured, why am I there? With your list taken at face value, there is no need for an AT to be on site, just have every athlete that states they “hurt” sit on the sideline until they feel better.
    I have never witnessed an athletic trainer behave in any of the malicious behaviors you have described. If you have, perhaps you should have corrected the situation or reported that AT to state and national boards. If you haven't seen/heard of ATs behaving in that manor, why are you making accusations?
    If your point was to start a discussion, you have!
  • Grady,

    It really is unfortunate that athletes get shamed for being inured. This is a practice that I have never understood nor will I ever. Im pretty sure there isn't a single person who wants to be injured let alone feel bad about having an injury.


    Gerard,

    I am actually glad that my post evoked such a strong response. It means that you are passionate about what you do and that you are one of the good ones. Unfortunately not everyone is a good one, and those 9 instances that I mentioned in my post happen regularly. I understand what you mean in reference to telling an athlete if they are injured or not. Yes it is our job to evaluate and distinguish the severity of the injury and treat said injury accordingly. However, there is a great gulf between the differences in the athlete you evaluate and they are comfortable and composed with the idea of going back out on their respective field of play and the athlete that you tell the same exact thing and they don't feel comfortable at all going back out there. This is when it is not okay to be dismissive or belittle their pain, not that it ever is. There is not a single healthcare professional that can feel the pain another person is feeling. So the subjective side of us that wants to send the athlete back who does not feel comfortable but we "feel" that it isn't that bad needs to be put in check. This is when the objective compassionate version of ourselves needs to be patient and understanding of our patients/athletes. No this doesn't mean that everyone with a little ache or pain should be sitting on the sideline, what it does mean is that there is one person on the sidelines, bench, or dugout that has to remain objective, advocate, and have no personal stakes that the athlete gets back out there, the Athletic Trainer. No matter how much a coach cares about a player they are not capable of making those calls to "get back out there" as winning is always in the back of their mind taking away any objectivity they may have had and more importantly they lack the education in the healthcare to do so. So when the Athletic Trainer makes the decision to put their opinions above science and what their athlete's are telling them there is no reason for the AT to be on site because they aren't doing their job.

    I also understand that we do hurt athlete's feelings by telling them that they have to be pulled from participation but that is a completely different scenario. That decision is being made for their own good to prevent further injury and preserve their career let alone quality of life after the sport. It's not made out of selfish reasons, impatience, or pressure from coaches to win a game.

    As far as correcting the situation with individuals or reporting the Athletic Trainer to the board I have always advocated for my athletes. In any situation that I have witnessed first-hand I have addressed it appropriately, even when it led to me being in hot water with coaching staffs or my employers my athletes come first. Many of these instances I have heard from second-hand from athletes that were coming from college to the minor leagues teams I worked for in the clinic as one of my patients. So these are not accusations nor are they occurrences that went ignored. They are part of the many dirty little secrets of sports that I have noticed and thought it was worth discussing amongst my peers
    Audric Warren MS, ATC, CAFS, NASM-PES, NASM-CES
  • Audric,

    I Understand all the comments you mention and I have heard many of them and after 40 yrs. in coaching
    ( Football, Basketball, Lacrosse, softball and track and field) and firmly believe that when Janie and Johnny are participating in a SPORT... pretend LIFE arena... the Match ( because I hesitate to say contest ) will teach that individual many more lessons about him or herself and how they participate ( win or lose ) than any lesson in the classroom or by anyone smoothing and guiding the way and making the path easy, predictable, and successful.

    "Getting back into the game" or staying in the game or sticking to the task through its entirety should be an individual decision guided (coached) by mature individual who have the best interest of the players in mind. The "match" or "contest" can be made safe for the participants, as it should, but it will also teach them that "Life" may not. There may not always be a trainer, coach, or official riding along to insure safety, guidance, and fair play to enhance their chances of success.

    Thank you for continuing to aid and inject the element of safety into the discussion and participation of Sports.

  • As a new ATC, (in my first year of practicing) I have seen this behavior in my two older co-workers. I work in a high school setting and am by ALL means the "low man on the totem pole". There are days where I will care for an injured athlete and I myself will get bullied by my two older co-workers for "falling for the athletes tricks to get attention". Sometimes I think, is it because I'm young and wanting to get my hands wet with any and every injury I can, while my co-workers are tired of all the work? Or am I being "too nice or naive" to every athlete that comes into our ATR?
  • Frankly, I am insulted by your insinuation that any athletic trainer would bully an athlete into playing with an injury. Bullying is bullying and is unacceptable, but your description has gone over the top with politically correct view that we cannot ever hurt another person’s feelings. Perhaps, by your standard, we shouldn’t tell athletes when they are injured because that certainly hurts their feelings and may lead to emotional trauma. Comment #4 makes no sense in regard to athletic trainers: “4.) Coaches, fellow athletes, and Athletic Trainers saying the athlete isn’t hurt or their injury isn’t that bad”. If I can’t tell an athlete he or she is or isn’t injured, why am I there? With your list taken at face value, there is no need for an AT to be on site, just have every athlete that states they “hurt” sit on the sideline until they feel better.
    I have never witnessed an athletic trainer behave in any of the malicious behaviors you have described. If you have, perhaps you should have corrected the situation or reported that AT to state and national boards. If you haven't seen/heard of ATs behaving in that manor, why are you making accusations?
    If your point was to start a discussion, you have!

    Wish I could agree with you, however I'm working at a school where the Head ATC bullies our athletes on a daily basis. Athletes refuse to come into the ATR bc of him. our AD has been told about this, however whenever the AD is around the head ATC is the nicest most helpful person ever. It's infuriating
  • I have not witnessed AT bullying of patients. There is a culture of "toughing it out" in some environments that an AT might be seduced by "the dark side". All coaching, all rehab, using psychology to help a patient have the courage to advance in rehab should be purposeful and not emotional.

    What about the bullying of the Athletic Trainer by coaches, administrators, or parents? How many of you have felt threatened because of your decision making? I have had some tense moments in my career, even been assaulted by a coach, and fired because I disagreed with the school principal that "Coaches are the only ones who decide who can play"!
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