It’s National Athletic Training Month: Meet The First Black Woman Dually Certified As A Physical Therapist And Athletic Trainer In The NBA

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Every year, March is designated as National Athletic Training Month. This year, ESSENCE is celebrating by profiling Vanessa Brooks, who made history in 2019 when she joined the NBA as the first Black woman to be dually certified as an athletic trainer and physical therapist.

Watch any Oklahoma Thunder NBA game, and you can find Brooks sitting in “the front row of the Thunder’s bench,” only “a couple seats down from coach Mark Daigneault.”

This was always the plan. As Brooks told ESSENCE, “I knew my goal was to work in the NBA.” However when she told her that to her mentors, their response was less than enthusiastic.

“My mentors were coming from the right place. They just told me the truth, ‘there’s no one there that’s before you. Are you sure you don’t mean the NCAA or WNBA?’ There’s nothing’s wrong with those entities, but I said I actually wanted do that one first,” said Brooks.

Brooks’ mentors were not exaggerating. Black women are woefully underrepresented in the field of athletic training. “Between 2003 and 2016, the average total membership of the National Athletic Trainers’ Association (NATA) was 34,635 members…[and] Black women have accounted for only 2%-4% of the total female membership. These data are similar to the demographics of sister allied health professions.”

Fortunately, the glass ceiling continues to be shattered. Since Brooks started, she shared how “we’ve had more and more coming into the league. It’s like a sisterhood that’s started to grow, which has been amazing.”

What happens after you get your dream job? “You’re living out of a suitcase most of the time. You’re changing time zones. You’re going to be around staff for majority of your time, besides more than even your family,” says Brooks. “It’s hard work, but it’s worth it.”

And her hard work is certainly paying off. “She’s just another example of that whole pillar in our organization,” stated Daigneault. “That’s who the players see first when they come in in the morning. They see our security guys, they see our chefs and then they see our medical and performance staff.”

“The first people they see are there to serve them and there to try to help them get better. And Vanessa’s just another example of that,” the coach continued. “She’s a high, high character person, she’s excellent at her job, she’s consistent, positive and a real asset to the team and to the organization.”

“Please do not let anyone tell you that you can’t do something,” is Brooks’ advice for those who come behind her. She is extremely passionate about “encouraging other people who are going through something similar” and paying it forward “to hopefully help the next person praying for that breakthrough.”

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