‘If we build it, they will come’
Charlie Thompson shares insight during sold-out NATAPAC Breakfast
By Beth Sitzler
Charlie Thompson, MS, ATC, is a baseball purist. He believes the only songs that should play during a game are the national anthem, “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” or “God Bless America” during the seventh inning stretch and “Sweet Carolyn” by Neil Young – but only in Fenway Park.
Thompson’s love of baseball and the classic flick, “Field of Dreams” – “It’s my third favorite sports movie,” he said – were the underlining themes of his speech to members during the NATA Political Action Committee Breakfast Wednesday morning.
While comparing “Field of Dreams” – a story of a man trying to reconnect to his deceased father and a bygone era of baseball by building a baseball field in his corn field – to the athletic training profession, he said both are about connections, beliefs and passion.
“It’s not a sports movie, it’s a movie about passion,” said Thompson, head athletic trainer at Princeton University. “Having a passion so strong it makes everyone else believe; a passion so strong that if you build it, they will come.”
When the NATA founding fathers came together in Kansas City in 1950, they built the association on hard work with the goal of connecting to those they care for, Thompson said.
“We have to make sacrifices, but we work for people who appreciate the care we provide,” he said.
Another important aspect of the association and profession has been – and still is – mentorship, he said. “Mentors have been a hallmark of the association,” said Thompson, a 2013 NATA Hall of Fame inductee. “They teach us what’s not in the books. … They taught us that when a situation occurs, and everyone is in a panic, it’s the athletic trainers who stay calm and take control.
“Mentors take their experiences – their successes and their failures – and use them to guide those around them. They’ve taught us about live, about caring and about the importance of the profession.”
He discussed how athletic trainers have now expanded to areas that the association founders probably never imagined in 1950, such as at NASA, Cirque Du Soleil and the Atlanta Airport.
“Look at all that’s happened since 1950,” he said. “It’s evolved and is still evolving.”
With 49 of 50 states requiring AT certification and higher standards set for AT education, the credibility of athletic trainers has increased – as indicated by the fact that NATA was one of the health care entities in emergency response invited to the “Bystanders: Our Nation’s Immediate Responders” roundtable at the White House in April 2015. “They wanted our thoughts,” he said.
While much discussion has surrounded the recent professional degree change – from a bachelor’s degree to a master’s – Thompson said he believes such a change is needed to continue to grow the profession and its standing.
“It will be a challenge, but who better to meet that challenge than athletic trainers,” he said. Thompson said the athletic training profession has also been at the forefront of national issues, such as heat illness and concussions, and are often behind the consensus statements that are saving lives.
Thompson wondered what the NATA founders would think of the association now. “Would they still see that purity?” he asked.
Thompson said it was important for the members – all 40,000+ of them – to remain focused and engaged.
“We can’t get distracted, we have to stay pure,” he said, explaining that while athletic trainers have branched into emerging settings and become physician extenders, that doesn’t mean they should be separate from the profession. “The term athletic trainer shouldn’t define who we work with, but how we work. … I’m concerned we might splinter the profession. … We’re not defined by our setting but our profession. We have to remember that we’re all athletic trainers, first and foremost.
“We need to evolve, but we can’t give up our core values.”
Thompson said he also has fears of apathy creeping into the profession, creating a “someone else will do it” mentality. “If we want this to grow, we have to change this mindset,” he said, adding that students should be encouraged early on to participate. “Every vote does matter.”
Thompson said by holding onto the things that make athletic training unique, the profession can continue to evolve and grow.
“I believe if we continue to build this thing, they will come,” he said.