An Athletic Trainer’s Role: College and School Mass Shootings

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By Desi Rotenberg, MS, LAT, ATC

The topic of mass shootings has recently become a hot button issue due to the increasing number of incidents occurring in the last few years.  While shooters who commit these atrocities must be held responsible, we must take a deeper look at the root cause of why an individual would feel the need to cause such chaos and destruction.  Before I can delve into the basic psychology of an active shooter, I want to expose a truth: Athletic Trainers are not immune to this threat.  Between 2000 and 2013, 160 active shooter incidents occurred in the United States; of those 160 incidents, 39 took place in an educational environment.1

While Athletic Trainers on high school and collegiate campuses may only be exposed to the athletic population, we must not turn a blind eye to the reality that active shooter incidents can occur anytime and any place.  It is paramount as university or high school staff, we take the necessary precautions and training to ensure the safety of our staff, our athletes and ourselves.

Having an emergency action plan in place to ensure the safety and protection of you and your staff can be the difference between life and death.  Being from Colorado, I will never forget April 20, 1999 (Columbine High School), or July 20, 2012 (Aurora Movie Theater), 2 dates when the threat of what human beings are capable of became very real.

In my classroom, I have spoken with my students about the possibilities and potential dangers of what can occur in a crisis situation.  However, rather than focusing on the threat, I focus my efforts on creating a plan.  This plan involves the cultivation of an awareness that, when things begin to go wrong, we must know how and when to act. This principle is very similar to how an Athletic Trainer must respond in the event of a sudden illness or injury.

The first step is ensuring there is a plan in place that can be practiced regularly by all staff on-site.  Collaboration with other departments, teachers and staff will allow for better communication and flow in the event of an emergency.  Most educational institutions will have plans in place. They will make sure you and your staff are familiar with the action steps that are essential to ensuring your safety.  The second step will be to establish a rendezvous point.  In the event your staff becomes separated in an emergency situation, it is critical to look out for one another.

Furthermore, we must attempt to understand the root cause of why individuals feel the need to cause such destruction. As Athletic Trainers, we understand the best protection from injury is preventative medicine; so too, I believe we have a responsibility to do our part in preventing mass shootings from occurring.  Am I suggesting that we can single handedly stop a mass shooting from occurring?  Maybe.

If this topic interests you, please check out the article published by Esquire Magazine in 2014.

So the big question: How do we prevent these mass shootings from occurring at the source?  We may not stop a shooter from entering a school with the intent of carrying out mass murder, but we can do our part in treating everyone we meet in our lives, whether they be friend or stranger, with a nurturing resolve.  Most mass shooters simply want to be noticed, and feel the only way to be recognized is to carry out a temporary, devastating act.  The reality lies within us. Our efforts should be focused on long-term positive interactions with the world around us.  If we commit ourselves to treating every human being with honor, respect, empathy, positivity and love, we may be able to help a lost, troubled individual feel valued.

As Athletic Trainers, we may have a wide range of staff under our supervision.  As leaders, it is our responsibility to ensure our facilities are safe and our staff are well prepared in the event of an active assailant.  While the data shows a small occurrence rate, we should always be aware these incidents usually have a similar cause and can occur any time and any place.

“People will not remember what you did or what you said… but they will always remember how you made them feel”

- Maya Angelou


1. U.S. Department of Justice. Federal Bureau of Investigation (2013). A Study of Active Shooter Incidents in the United States Between 2000 and 2013. Retrieved from

2. Esquire Magazine



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