How do the media view the culture of female athletic trainers? And how do the media influence the comfort level of male athletes being treated in locker rooms by female trainers? In Sacramento, do you think male college athletes would prefer a male or female trainer? A college quarterback coming into the locker room with a dislocated shoulder wouldn’t care whether the athletic trainer taking care of him is male or female — or would he? Athletes at Sacramento colleges feel more comfortable with male trainers, in general, if the problem, such as an injury, is gender-related.
Apparently guys locally and nationally think it’s okay to be vulnerable, exposed emotionally and what other males might judge ‘weak’ behavior, for example, troubled with depression– if the therapist is female. You have doctor mom, and the men are comfortable, feeling like little boys again. But they want to appear ‘strong’ in front of a male trainer, especially if they have a gender-related injury, most male athletes prefer a male trainer–for a higher comfort level.
Probably, a lot of women feel more comfortable with a female therapist, too, in certain circumstances, particularly if they have father issues. (The old sayings include for women: like father, like husband, and for men: like mother, like wife.) It’s about choice, and the media may imitate culture as well as create it.
Is this a perception or preference created by media images of women as doctor ‘mom’ in the locker room–when approached by a female trainer? Do female trainers in locker rooms give men the feeling of being young children again? And is this point of view encouraged by the culture and imagery of the media?
All you’d have to do is ask any male athlete at UC Davis or CSUS: do you want a male or female trainer to treat you? Do males view female trainers the way the view female doctors or dentists? Or do female trainers of athletes who treat males become demoted in the guy’s perception–to an extension of a 1940s housewife? How about the image of Rosie the Riveter? Or doctor mom? Do men want to see women treat them when the guys are in pain?
A new study from North Carolina State University examining male football players’ perceptions of female athletic trainers – and their comfort level in being treated by females – shows that the quarterback would most likely prefer a male, unless the dislocated shoulder made him depressed, according to a July 13, 2010 North Carolina State University press release, “Locker Room Talk: How Male Athletes Portray Female Athletic Trainers.”
Interestingly, in Sacramento, most male athletes have no hesitation visiting female chiropractors when they are in pain. However, older men more frequently may associate female massage technicians in a very different light than they would the more familiar male masseur who works in environments where male athletes usually congregate.
When it comes to out-call massage technicians, older men may view female out-call massage technicians in a different way–not really as female athletic trainers–than men who make calls to hotels or who work for a spa specializing in massage and physical therapy. In that case, being a trainer or a masseur usually is viewed as a paraprofessional medical occupation where skilled training is necessary as well as a state license. Do men view athletic trainers in a different cultural light than they see massage technicians? Of course. But what about males going to female chiropractors for sports injuries or help with chronic pain?
According to the NCSU press release, “Previous research had shown that male and female athletes overall feel more comfortable with treatment by same-gender athletic trainers for gender-specific injuries and conditions,” says Dr. Heidi Grappendorf, assistant professor of parks, recreation and tourism management at NC State. “We wanted to specifically examine football players’ comfort level by same and opposite sex athletic trainers for gender and non-gender-specific injuries – while seeing if gender stereotypes influenced opinions.”
The study showed that male football players were more comfortable with treatment by a male athletic trainer for both gender-specific injuries – such as sports hernias – as well non-gender-specific injuries – like a dislocated shoulder. When it came to general psychological conditions, there were no significant differences between a preference for a male or female trainer. For the treatment of depression, however, there was a significant preference for female trainers. Data were collected through questionnaires given to football players in two National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Division I programs.
Because there is a social stigma associated with depression, the potential exists that football players could be viewed as “weak” if they divulge that information to male athletic trainers, the researchers say. Also, because of their prescribed ideas about gender rolls, football players may find more comfort in talking to female trainers about depression.
“Over half of our participants described female athletic trainers using communal terms consistent with gender roles stereotypically attributed to women – such as caring, nurturing and affectionate,” says Caitlin O’Connor, who co-authored the paper while finishing her master’s degree at NC State. “Clearly, we can see some prejudice based upon the gender of athletic trainers.”
Researchers believe there is an incongruity between the stereotypical gender role of women and their presence in the male-dominated football environment, suggesting that there could be a backlash against women in the locker room.
“It is plausible to suggest that the football athletic training room could be viewed by football players as an ‘inappropriate’ place for women – regardless of their education or experience,” says Grappendorf. “Additional research needs to be done to see if the presence of female athletic trainers could actually reduce the likelihood of male athletes reporting injuries.”
The study, “Division I Football Players Perceptions of Females in the Athletic Training Room: Utilizing Role Congruity Theory” was published in the July/August issue of the Journal of Athletic Training. The Department of Parks, Recreation and Tourism Management is part of NC State’s College of Natural Resources.