The athletic trainer is typically the first trained medical professional an athlete sees when they are shaken up during play. However, fewer than nine percent of athletic trainers (ATs) are Black.
When we first met Ryan Dotson, he was a University of Minnesota graduate student studying to be a certified athletic trainer (ATC) back in the mid-2000s, when fewer than 10 percent of all ATs were Black. Unfortunately, that percentage has not changed much after all these years.
The most recent demographics, according to Zippia.com (2023), of nearly 4,000 ATs in the U.S., around 70 percent are males, and 31 percent female. Three percent of ATs work in pro sports and 24 percent in college sports. Of these, Blacks comprise 8.4 percent, Asians 8.5 percent, Latinos 15.8 percent and Whites 61.5 percent.
Furthermore, HBCU schools have a higher percentage of Black and POC athletic trainers than PWIs, with Division I schools having a greater racial and ethnic diversity compared to Division II and Division III.
“When I was a GA back in 2010, 2011, there were no Black athletic trainers on staff. We have three females and myself,” said Dotson of the current Minnesota athletic training staff.
According to the Mayo Clinic’s health careers fact sheet, ATs can evaluate injuries, implement rehabilitation programs for injured athletes, and develop injury prevention programs among other roles and responsibilities for the athletic trainer. A trainer must be a high school graduate and earn at least a bachelor’s degree, graduate from an accredited athletic training education program, and then pass the board of certification exam.
It’s more than just taping ankles, emphasized Dotson. “There’s so much more to it.”
Dotson is a member of the University of Minnesota’s 20 full-time athletic medical staff and mainly covers men’s basketball. He returned to the Gophers in 2020, after a two-year stint as a certified athletic trainer/rehabilitation specialist in Seattle (2018-2020).
Before that, Dotson, who earned his master’s degree from the U in 2011, was the men’s and women’s basketball AT at the University of Indianapolis (2011-14), then at Mississippi State as both an AT and director of the school’s student athletic-training internship program (2014-18).
Still, through the travels and stops in his career, he’s seen few ATCs that look like him. “I would emphasize that there’s a need for more Black athletic trainers.”
Athletic trainers are fully equipped for any medical emergency, including life-threatening ones. “We are prepared for these situations,” said Dotson. “Early in my career, someone had a cardiac arrest. That’s something that we learned in school, that specific type of injury event and how to handle it.”
Dotson suggested that one way to help move the needle for more Black ATs would be reaching down to high school students or younger to create more awareness. “I think that’s the best way to get there, get these young people to understand that this is a profession that they might like.”