With the courts now having ruled after a five-year legal showdown, the National Football League is beginning the process of paying injured ex-players for health-related issues stemming from their careers. Over time, the payments will benefit tens of thousands of former players and may eventually total $1 billion, a topic we wrote about recently.
That landmark case, however, has overshadowed a different public-health initiative involving football that's also worthy of attention. And such attention is warranted because it is helping protect teenage athletes by funneling critical assets – athletic trainers – directly to playing fields all across the country.
What began in 2014, the NFL is now expanding a pilot program to subsidize the salaries of athletic trainers for public high schools that lack this critical resource. Through the NFL Foundation, a non-profit entity representing the league's 32 teams, individual grants of $35,000 will be doled out to worthy schools that applied before this month's deadline.
The program, which has already funded 15 schools, will eventually distribute grants to 150 public high schools in four specific states – Arizona, Oklahoma, Illinois and Oregon – which were chosen, according to the league, because they offered "geographic diversity." In addition, "access to athletic trainers at public high schools was taken into consideration."
The 15 schools announced in March received a $50,000 grant. They're from across the country, stretching from California (Pasadena, Chula Vista, Chico, Wildomar) to Minnesota (Alden, Minneapolis) to New York (the Bronx and Attica). The full list of recipients is here.
The next set of schools selected for the grants will receive $20,000 in 2017, the foundation states, "with the opportunity for an additional $15,000 in funding over the subsequent years of the three-year grant term, if grant terms are met."
The pilot program has several partners, but one that's playing a central role is the National Athletic Trainers’ Association. It's on the front lines of high school player safety, and has identified the strong need for professional guidance for schools which simply cannot afford trainers.
"An athletic trainer is a licensed medical professional who has specific expertise in preventing, recognizing, treating and rehabilitating athletic injuries," NATA said in a statement. "However, nearly two-thirds of high schools across the country lack a full-time athletic trainer and almost thirty percent of high schools do not have any athletic trainer at all."
What's also forward-thinking about the NFL's program is that while schools need to have a football team in order to be considered for the grant, "student-athletes participating in any sport can benefit from the care provided by an athletic trainer. Schools are encouraged to develop more extensive athletic training programs to provide more athletes with access to an athletic trainer, if possible."
So while the NFL is frequently the target of criticism for appearing too concerned with making a buck, at the expense of safety, the league does deserve some credit for launching this initiative and getting resources to kids where it's needed.