Other Opinions

Derek Carr: Licensing athletic trainers is a winning game plan for California

Oakland Raiders quarterback and former Fresno State football star Derek Carr.
Oakland Raiders quarterback and former Fresno State football star Derek Carr. jwalker@fresnobee.com

Football has long played a starring role in my life. For me, nothing beats the excitement of game day — whether during my CIF high school days, my college years at Fresno State or now with the Oakland Raiders.

The thrills of victory and agonies of defeat are all part of the game, and strongly bonded relationships with fellow players, coaches and support team members make the winning celebrations better and the losses more tolerable. Whether having a winning or losing season, injuries often have the most devastating and challenging impact on a player as well as their entire team and extended family.

Luckily, the health care that I received as a college player and now as a professional athlete has been managed by highly skilled, certified athletic trainers and top-notch team physicians. During these injury time outs, there was never a doubt that my best interests were at the forefront of their assessment and treatment plans.

It is unfortunate, however, that not all high school football players in California have access to certified athletic trainers. But what is even worse than no athletic trainer is having someone designated as an athletic trainer who does not meet the national certification standards.

It is truly shocking that California is the only state in the nation that allows people without the proper credentials to oversee an athlete’s physical health and safety. That means that someone who has only basic first aid skills or has been fired from a job in a different state due to harm or negligence can find employment as an “athletic trainer” in our state.

Oakland Raiders quarterback Derek Carr (4) passes against the Denver Broncos during the first half of an NFL football game in Oakland, Calif., Monday, Dec. 24, 2018. (AP Photo/John Hefti) John Hefti AP

A recent survey of CIF high schools showed that an alarming 20% of those institutions with an “athletic trainer” indicated that person does not meet a national certification standard. This means that a young athlete who sustains a concussion during practice or play could leave the critical decision-making of whether to be benched or treated up to someone who is not qualified or well-educated on concussions.

That same uncertified person also could be responsible for preventing a heat-related illness or recognizing the signs of a significant knee injury that requires surgery without the knowledge or ability to do it. The list of negative consequences as a result of unlicensed trainers will continue growing every year as long as California lawmakers refuse to address this urgent need to regulate the profession of athletic training.

A potential game-changer that can solve the problem of unqualified athletic trainers and level the playing field for young athletes is the recently introduced California Assembly Bill 1592, sponsored by Assemblymember Rob Bonta (D-Alameda). I strongly support this bill that would better protect school athletes and regulate athletic training and hope everyone will agree with me and encourage their elected officials to carry it across the goal line.

Once passed, this common-sense legislation will establish licensure for California’s athletic trainers and bring us in line with the other 49 states that regulate the profession. It will ensure that anyone claiming to be an athletic trainer has completed an accredited academic program, works within the scope of health care practice as prescribed by law, and completes regular and ongoing continuing education.

Throughout my football playing career, I’ve had my share of bumps and bruises and strains and sprains, and seen my teammates sustain injuries both minor and major. It’s always reassuring to know that the athletic trainers who we’re trusting with critical health care decisions are at the top of their field.

AB 1592 will make sure an unqualified person claiming to be the “trainer” will not be on the sidelines of a football field, basketball court, softball field or any other school competition evaluating or treating our youngest and most physically vulnerable athletes. With rigorous training and regulation, certified athletic trainers can be part of the team that keeps today’s budding sports stars healthy and on track to be tomorrow’s top-ranking amateur and professional athletes.

So huddle up California, and work with me to put pressure on our lawmakers to get in formation with every other state in the nation that regulates the athletic training profession. Let’s score big for our student athletes and demand that vital health care decisions are not fumbled by an unqualified, uncertified person.

Enacting AB1592 is the best strategy for winning this important life game.

Derek Carr is a quarterback for the National Football League’s Oakland Raiders. He played college football for the Fresno State Bulldogs. He is married with two young sons.