Saturday, April 04, 2020

1889 Institute: why does OK limit the number of athletic trainers?

In the Midst of a Concussion Crisis, Why Does Oklahoma Artificially Limit the Number of Athletic Trainers?
By Benjamin Lepak

Oklahoma news outlets recently highlighted the problem of concussions in high school football. Stories have examined inadequate data tracking by the state, a proposal requiring schools to keep ambulances on site at games, and even differences in rules between high school and college football that encourage high school quarterbacks to take hits rather than throw the ball away.

The coverage has not mentioned the state’s overly restrictive licensing regime for athletic trainers, which artificially restricts the supply of trainers when they are apparently sorely needed.

Half of Oklahoma’s counties (38 of 77) do not have a single licensed athletic trainer, according state records. Researchers report that only 13 percent of Oklahoma schools have a full time athletic trainer and only 32 percent have even a part time trainer. Of those counties that do have licensed trainers, 10 have only one in the entire county.

This lack of athletic trainers is unsurprising given the cumbersome requirements for obtaining a license. Would-be trainers must obtain a four-year college degree to be licensed. Contrasted with Oklahoma’s paramedic training requirement, which can be completed in just over six months, the four-year degree requirement seems overboard.

The usual prescriptions proposed by interest groups and politicians to address such hard to manage problems are more legal mandates and more funding from the state. There is a better option. Rather than erecting unnecessary barriers through burdensome licensing schemes, let’s reduce the obstacles to training and deploying athletic trainers.

Better yet, let’s get rid of the licensing requirement all together.

Our athletic trainer licensing law unnecessarily restricts otherwise qualified individuals from providing needed services to our kids. Consider a retired army medic wishing to volunteer as a trainer at a school without the resources to hire a licensed trainer. Under current law, it is a crime for her to offer her services. The team must make do without a trainer, while a qualified medical professional watches from the sidelines. How does this promote health and safety?

The information needed to reduce concussion severity is available. Protocols are actually fairly easy to come by, and have been successfully implemented in college and pro football in recent years. It shouldn’t take more than a short, once a year course to get that information to every school in the state. It certainly doesn’t require a four-year degree. What is needed is a dedicated person on each team whose primary job is to see them through.

If the Legislature wants to make a dent in the concussion problem, it can do so—without spending a dime—by repealing the athletic trainer license.

Benjamin Lepak is Legal Fellow at 1889 Institute. He can be reached at


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