The Issue of Gender Bias and Discrimination in Athletic Training

When I chose athletic training as my field of study in college, I was not even considering whether gender plays a role in getting a good position in the field. My impression was if I studied hard, got good grades, passed all of the required examinations and completed all of my required clinical hours, then I would be qualified to work in an athletic training environment and become an athletic trainer. However, once I took the Intro to Athletic Training course, offered by the University of Akron, I realized I was in for a rude wake up call.

In Mazerolle’s academic journal, she stated “that gender discrimination was identified as a problem faced by young, female ATs, especially when working with a male sport coached by a male” (696). If a female wants to be an athletic trainer in a male dominant sport, such as football, hockey, etc. they are faced with more challenges due to a difference in experience and what these sports are already accustomed to. With sports being run by a predominantly male society, women are faced with a gender bias when it comes to pursuing a career in athletic training at the professional level.

The problem of discrimination and gender bias that women face in any sports related field can date back to when Title IX was passed. Before Title IX was passed, women struggled with so much scrutiny when it came to developing their own career not only in the athletic field, but in other career fields as well. When Title IX was finally passed, it stated that “No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.” After this was passed, women were beginning to break the glass ceiling and find careers in different athletic fields. Many women were actually beginning to take on leadership roles, such as head athletic trainer Sue Falsone. Sue Falsone was the first female head athletic trainer for the Los Angeles Dodgers. She was able to break the glass ceiling and work for a baseball team, a male dominant sport, and where females are rarely seen on the field.

On the Board of Certification for Athletic Training website, it says “Much of the credit for the continued growth of women in the athletic training profession goes to the female ATs who have faced gender bias and discrimination and broken down many of the professional barriers” (Ryba, “History of Women in Athletic Training”). Even though women are beginning to be seen in more athletic related fields, there is still a gap in the gender aspect when it comes to higher power, or supervisory, roles. Examples would include there are more men that have manager roles than women and there are more women involved in the medical aspect of athletics than men. The best way to describe this type of discrimination and gender bias is through the muted-group theory. The muted group theory, according to Patricia Perez, “focuses on how dominant discourse silences or mutes groups that are not part of the organization’s mainstream group” (66).

In other words, in the athletic career field, it is a theory that focuses on the power that men have and how they use it. This theory rests on the fact that women and men both look at the world differently, mainly because they have different experiences. Men are deemed more respectful, because they have more power than women. Due to men expressing their power politically, they suppresses women’s ideas from gaining public acceptance. Women are then forced to convert their ideas, experiences, and meanings into a language that would be more appropriate for men and be more in favor by the male majority. For example, in a male dominant sport, females cannot enter locker rooms and must be careful the way they interact with males, due to the risk of sexual harassment issues. With the muted-group theory, the dominant group is the group that develops the communication patterns. The minority group, which in this case, are the women working in a male dominant sport, have less of a chance of being heard due to the gender differences.

Therefore, that makes the women the muted-group. In general, the muted-group theory is when a group has more power and is more dominant when it comes to exchanging information and communication. With the muted-group theory being the most logical explanation when it comes to discrimination and gender bias, it shows how women struggle with the acceptance of being a female athletic trainer in a male dominant environment. Women have a more difficult time in expressing how they feel due to them feeling uncomfortable, feeling as though they do not belong. The muted-group theory shows how men are afraid to lose their power, and in fact, risk losing their power if they were to listen to women and incorporate their ideas. What men do not seem to realize, is that this is not the past. Women are becoming more accepted every day in different fields all across the nation. Women sports is becoming more popular and women are beginning to work more in the athletic career fields. According to Ryba, “In recent years, more women have been joining the athletic training profession than men. In 2005, 47.6 percent of NATA members were women, but in 2011 that number climbed to 50.9 percent” (“History of Women in Athletic Training”).

Ryba’s journal article continues to discuss the different levels of discrimination and what men continue to do to enforce a gender bias and discrimination. In male sports, people hear the language that the coaches and players use when they are not playing the way they should be. For example, “You run like a girl” or “Don’t be a sissy” and so on. These phrases show how depreciated women are and how excluded they are from the sports environment, especially in a male dominant sport. Sometimes, male coaches and athletic trainers will use these terms in front of female athletic trainers, causing them to be offended and feel undermined.

If a female cannot be respected in a sports environment, then they will continue to feel uncomfortable and will not express themselves like they should be. This shows how man-made the sports language is in an athletic environment. If there is anything more important than establishing respect, it is establishing communication. If a group cannot establish effective communication between one another, it will make it that much harder to cooperate and work together efficiently and be successful as a team.

Studies have also been conducted when it comes to gender equity and salaries in the athletic training field. According to Ryba’s article, “The 2003 NATA salary report indicated that women ATCs, on average, earned approximately $6,500 less per year than men ATCs and received only 43% of the annual bonus that men receive” (“Gender Equity in Athletic Training”). This shows that female athletic trainers, even though they have, on average, the same educationalbackground as male athletic trainers, are being paid less than men. Women face many concerns when it comes gender equity in the workplace.

For example, female athletic trainers feel as though they are not given enough opportunities, they face issues with credibility, they have issues in their personal life or with their families, and as mentioned earlier, they get paid less than male athletic trainers. Female athletic trainers have also realized that men receive preferential treatment when it comes to working at the professional level. In the business world, where the employment opportunities and other decisions about college and university athletics are made, the majority of men run that department, so the issue of gender equity, gender bias, and other forms of discrimination continue to be an issue for aspiring female athletic trainers.

The number one issue that women continue to face, not only in the athletic training position, but in any workplace, is balancing both their job and the personal life. Women are still seen as the primary caregiver when it comes to being in a family. The responsibilities of raising children and taking care of children falls mainly on the woman. The work life of an athletic trainer requires a lot of time in the actual workplace, rather than being at home. Most of the time, a female athletic trainer is working 48 hours in a week, and barely has time to relax or enjoy their life. With women having the responsibility of taking care of a family on top of working that many hours, it is stressful and causes a lot of female athletic trainers to give up and not pursue the career anymore. That is why a majority of female athletic trainers are either single, divorced, widows, etc. However, this problem can be worked on, if the women have a good supportive partner, have a good support system, such as from their family, and understanding supervisors.

Many people believe that having a family and working a full time job is difficult, especially for women, but all it takes is compromise and a good support system and their will not be as much stress in their life. As time goes on women are continuing to dominate the workplace across the nation. The nation is seeing a rise in female athletic trainers and other positions in the athletic career field.

Even though women are continuing to become a part of the athletic career environment, they still face issues of gender bias and discrimination. Women are being paid less than men, they face more struggles in balancing their personal life with their job, and they continue to face disparaging comments in a male dominant environment. If women are going to be employed in these environments, there needs to be a change in communication and exchanging of information, because it is unfair for women who work so hard to get their degree, just to finally have their own career and face gender discrimination. The nation continues to grow, in forms of gender equity. Just look at the presidential race. Hillary Clinton is the primary democratic candidate for being the next president of the United States. Not only does she have a good chance at being president, she will be the first female president ever. If that does not make a statement for women and establishing gender equality, then I am not sure what will.

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