A weed springs through a crack in the foundation of the Yale Bowl. It grows tall and strong among other weeds, sprouting from one of many fractures in the concrete. What used to be a proud symbol of Yale’s excellence has now become a representation of the problems present in the daily lives of its student-athletes, coaches and administrators. Each crack in the Yale Bowl symbolizes a fracture in the harmony that once existed, each weed that grows represents the small problems that have taken over the landscape of the athletic department.
Last week, I read a piece in the News pertaining to the health and well-being of our student-athletes, an issue which I, and many other scholar-athletes, have been aware of for quite some time. The small tears in ligaments, microfractures in bones and incessant strains on muscles can quickly turn into threatening injuries. And in fact, without proper treatment, they will. That is far too often the narrative for Yale athletes, regardless of what team they play for. Serious injuries happen in any and every sport. Many of them are unavoidable. But there are also many serious injuries we can mitigate by not allowing small aggravations to become something more.
Yale Athletics’ treatment (or lack thereof) of our sports medicine department is an enormous problem. It is a weed whose roots have grown strong and will continue to fissure our athletic tradition if drastic changes do not come soon.
As a former president of the Yale Student Athlete College Council, I have heard these complaints many times from student-athletes of many teams. We have had countless conversations with the Yale Athletic Department about these systemic issues. This inaction grows more and more troubling as I continue to see my fellow student-athletes suffer.
I want to make clear that the lack of support for the health of student-athletes is complicated. While blame cannot be directly aimed at one office or another, the solution to the problem is simple. The solution will take commitment from the sports medicine department. It will a take renewed vision in excellence by Yale Athletics. It will take greater financial support from Yale’s provost and president. It will even take a change in culture from the student-athletes themselves. But a fix is doable and necessary.
We currently employ wonderful, hard-working trainers, but they are stretched too thin. We must hire more full-time, experienced trainers to meet the fifteen-trainer quota set out by the National Athletic Trainer’s Association. The care of 850 student-athletes — 15 percent of our student body — cannot be left to 3 full-time trainers and 7 full-time trainer interns. We attempt to meet that quota by heavily relying on full-time interns, as opposed to full-time, experienced trainers. We should flip that model and have more experienced people in the training room.
We must expand and modernize our training facilities and equipment, because simple resources like these should never inhibit Yale’s fantastic trainers from doing their jobs effectively. Our current facilities are outdated and lack the necessary space to treat all of our athletes. Waiting times and insufficient resources are often to blame for the lack of quality care. Players should not feel discouraged from going to the training room if they have a small injury due to concerns of wait time, space or trainer availability.
We need better communication and coordination between everyone involved in evaluating injuries. While the burden of rehabilitation falls on the players as well as the staff, a student-athlete should never question whether he or she can access care.
My experience as the head of the Student Athlete Council has given me insight into the stories of numerous athletes. It has allowed me to hear of their physical pains as well as the mental health issues that go along with battling these devastating injuries. If we do not employ these solutions, we fail to provide our student-athletes with the minimum care necessary to pursue their passions.
These would not be stories if they do not, in some way, implicate the Yale Athletic Department through personal tragedies and team injury trends. Still, I am not ready to assign blame squarely on the administration’s shoulders. Student-athletes do not demand any special privilege, just the adequate care and resources which will allow them to safely play for their team, teammates and fans that they love. Not to mention make it to class. I understand the budget cuts and rising expenses that Yale Athletics has to manage at 20 Tower Pkwy. But I will also say that the care for all Yale students falls under the umbrella of the President and Provost. This issue is complex, but if the right people step up to the plate to protect our students, it becomes fairly easy to solve.
Jackson Stallings is a senior in Berkeley College, a member of the Yale Football team, and was the president of the Yale Student-Athlete College Council. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org .