Before 1972, when Title IX was signed into law creating equal opportunity for female athletics, there were less than 30,000 women participating in college sports in the U.S. However, by 2010, the number of female collegiate athletes had grown to 190,000 or around 43 percent of total participating athletes. Interestingly, Title IX didn’t just impact sports participation—women also began taking advantage of opportunities in the professional field of athletic training.
The National Athletic Trainers’ Association (NATA), founded in 1950, was created to set professional standards and regulations to help maintain athletic training quality. They currently have more than 43,000 members around the world, and women comprise more than half of the NATA memberships. Before Title IX, there were only eight female members.
Female athletic trainers have been making history since the creation of NATA, starting with Dorothy “Dot” Cohen.
1966: The First NATA Female Member
According to NATA, athletic trainers are health care professionals who examine, treat, and prevent sports injuries and diseases among athletes. It’s a field for people who are passionate about helping others and want to work in a versatile health care position. Those interested in becoming athletic trainers need to graduate from an accredited program with either a bachelor’s or master’s degree. After graduating, they can become members of NATA.
In 1966, Dorothy “Dot” Cohen became the first female member of NATA. A graduate from Indiana University, NATA officials granted her membership before Title IX passed. Dorothy paved the way for seven more female members to join before 1972. It’s an important mark in history because she succeeded before the federal government made it necessary to implement Title IX, helping to push for more opportunities for female athletes and athletic professionals. More women would join after Title IX with Gail Weldon making another leap in 1980.
1980: Gail Weldon and the Olympics
In 1980, Gail Weldon became the first NATA board certified female trainer to be selected for the U.S. Olympic medical team. She continued on shortly after to be the director of athletic training and physical therapy for the 1984 Olympic games as well. Weldon’s work in the Olympics was important because it would garner global recognition and open new opportunities for other female athletic trainers in prestigious events.
In 1996, she became the first woman inducted into NATA’s Hall of Fame, and an award was created in her honor. The Weldon Award of Excellence is given once a year to the athletic trainer who shows the most commitment to their athletes and dedication to improving health care. Gail Weldon made history by stepping onto the Olympic field in a prominent position. The next woman would make history for stepping up to take on the NATA leadership role.
1991: The First Female NATA Vice President and President
Julie Max became the first female NATA VP in 1991 and, in 2000, became the first female president. Also known for her work at the California State University as the director of sports medicine, Julie Max is a nationally recognized figure in her field.
She joined NATA’s Hall of Fame in 2007 in recognition of her hard work and dedication to athletic training. Max had made it her mission as VP and president to raise awareness about athletic training and the career opportunities it had. She helped NATA expand to become more prominent as more people became interested in the field and wanted to go even farther.
1997: First Female NBA Athletic Trainer
Thanks to the path paved by those pioneers like Dorothy Cohen, Gail Weldon, and Julie Max, Michelle Leget became the first female assistant athletic trainer in the NBA. This was the first time a female had established an athletic training career in a male-dominated professional sport. She had worked for the Houston Comets, the WNBA basketball team, and was hired for the Houston Rockets in 1997.
In a few interviews, Leget has briefly discussed the challenges she had to overcome to attain her role, believing that you can either work hard and ignore it or let it get you down. She focused on being a great athletic trainer and worked her way to the top. Michelle Leget made a historical step like those before her, further paving the way for more.
The Future of Athletic Training
These women worked hard to overcome challenges and showcase to the sports world that women are just as capable as men when it comes to being athletic trainers. Men had dominated NATA’s membership before the 1970s. Now NATA’s membership is predominately female. Opportunities have been unlocked for future generations to pursue without restriction thanks to these athletic trainers. They have helped remove hindrances so that someone with knowledge and drive can follow their passions.
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