Monroe Abram works every day at improving the athletic training services at Tennessee State.
By Kenny Berkowitz
Kenny Berkowitz is an Assistant Editor at Training & Conditioning.
Head Athletic Trainer Monroe Abram didn't found Tennessee State University's athletic training operation, but he's taken it to a new level. He's tripled the staff, upgraded the equipment, implemented an informal program for athletic training student aides, and developed an in-house drug testing regimen. He's also built a reputation for middle-of-the-night dedication and become a mentor to others in the field.
"By definition, athletic trainers go above the call, and Monroe is no exception, always willing to work beyond whatever we could compensate him for doing," says TSU Athletic Director Teresa Phillips. "Monroe is very good at what he does, very knowledgeable, and technically very strong. But he also has the people skills that are needed to work with student-athletes, head coaches, assistant coaches, administrators, and physicians."
That knack for the people part of the job, combined with a positive, can-do attitude, contributed to Abram's success with the nuts and bolts of building an athletic training program. "Monroe knows a lot about how to work when you don't have a lot of bells and whistles in your athletic training room," says Assistant Athletic Trainer Eric Williams, MS, ATC, who considers Abram a mentor. "When you don't have all the latest equipment, you learn to work with your hands, and that's one of the things he does best."
"Compared to some of the other places I'd been, I thought Tennessee State had a pretty good base," says Abram, MEd, ATC, who had previously worked in the clinical setting, in high schools, Division I and II colleges, and at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics. "TSU has a rich athletic tradition, with high expectations for their student-athletes, and my job was to step up the athletic training program."
The winner of the 2004 Tennessee Collegiate Athletic Trainer of the Year Award and a member of the NATA's Ethnic Diversity Advisory Committee, Abram believes that communication is the key to successfully working with student-athletes, coaches, administrators, and other athletic trainers. People around him agree that Abram embodies that belief.
"Everybody on campus likes Monroe," says Phillips. "He's so personable, I don't think anybody could say anything negative about him. He's a very gentle-spirited guy, who is very easy to work with, very easy to talk to, and always committed to making the best decisions for the health and safety of our student-athletes."
Growing up in Macon, Ga., Abram went to school at Mount De Sales Academy, then the University of Georgia, where he was a walk-on with the basketball team for one season. He planned to become a physical education teacher and basketball coach but changed his mind, continuing on to graduate school at Springfield College in Massachusetts, where he studied athletic training and earned his master's degree in 1988.
In his first job after graduation, Abram worked with 16 to 20 patients a day at Macon's Athletic Therapy and Rehabilitation Institute, strengthening his technical skills. In his second, Abram worked for Greater Atlanta Sports Medicine, where he developed rehab protocols, worked closely with orthopedists on primary and follow-up evaluation of injuries, and provided game coverage for two local high schools.
"Being at the clinic really gave me the technical basis for my rehab skills," says Abram. "I was able to work closely with physical therapists every day and use that experience to make my own cookbook on how rehab is supposed to go."
In 1995, Abram became Head Athletic Trainer at NCAA Division I Savannah State University, where he was solely responsible for the treatment of 220 student-athletes and worked on some of his toughest rehabs. In 1996, Abram provided coverage for the Atlanta Olympics, and in 1997 completed an internship at the US Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs. From there, he moved to Division II Morehouse College, where he's proud of his work in raising the standard of care for student-athletes.
The next year, he came to Tennessee State, which had lost its athletic trainer just weeks before the start of football preseason. He's been upgrading the program ever since, improving equipment one machine at a time, working with administrators to establish an undergraduate and graduate program in sports medicine, and taking the lead in plans to completely renovate the athletic training room. But in these six years, he's proudest of having added two new positions and built a staff who communicate well with each other.
"He's very honest and easy to work with," says Williams. "If there's a problem, he'll tell you straightforward what you did wrong and what you did right. If there's a situation where you need to be reprimanded, he'll give the reprimand, and once it's done, it's done, and everyone can get back to being colleagues and coworkers."
In the toughest rehab of his career, at Savannah State, Abram worked with a football athlete who'd broken his femur and rehabilitated it twice in successive seasons. Abram worked out realistic goals for this athlete, who was determined to return to play as quickly as possible, even if it meant competing with screws in his leg.
Abram's oddest rehab, a football athlete who tore his ACL and MCL, came back from surgery, rehabbed, injured his shoulder, and was so afraid of returning to the hospital that his body shook enough to knock him off the gurney. Abram stayed in the hospital overnight, until a neurologist could assess his patient the next morning.
Through both rehabs, Abram came to understand the importance of treating each student-athlete as an individual, with a unique set of expectations for rehab. "The biggest lesson I've learned is that communication is the key to a successful rehab," he says. "You have to know exactly how your athlete is feeling and clearly express your expectations so they know what they need to do. Your athlete may have one idea about when he or she should be back on the field, and you may have another, and you need to listen to each other to make the rehab a success."
Abram is chair of the Southeast Athletic Trainers' Association's Ethnic Diversity Advisory Committee and a member of NATA's Ethnic Diversity Committee. He works to increase the numbers of minority athletic trainers, raise minority awareness of the profession, call attention to the successes of minority trainers, network with physicians to bring more minority issues to the annual NATA convention, and foster the expansion of accredited athletic training programs at historically black colleges and universities. At Tennessee State, Abram works informally with a small group of athletic training student aides, who are drawn by seeing his staff in action.
As one way to get people interested in the profession, Abram changes the slogan on his staff T-shirts each year. Last year, the shirts read, "If you play the game, thank a trainer," and this year they read, "Stim it, ice it, tape it. You decide." Once on board, aides learn the basics of taping and evaluations, help with paperwork, and listen to athletic trainers from around the region, who visit as guest speakers to talk about their work.
Outside the athletic training room, Abram spends time with his wife and four children, encouraging them to find a sport they enjoy, and playing with them whenever he can. Since tearing his Achilles tendon during a pick-up game, Abram no longer plays basketball, but he lifts weights and runs to stay in shape.
In the future, he'd like to teach classes in athletic training and, for now, takes great pleasure in seeing his mentoring pay off. "One of my proudest moments was seeing a student of mine get interested in athletic training, taking him under my wing, and ultimately seeing him get a job in pro basketball," says Abram. "Being able to mentor other minorities to come into the profession, whether they are students or new athletic trainers, is a point of great pride."
But his greatest accomplishment, says Abram, is the athletic training staff he's helped create at TSU. "The thing I'm proudest of is having a good staff that's able to work together as a team and communicate well with each other," says Abram. "We all have our different ways of getting the job done, but we share the same objective. That's what makes us a team. If you can respect each other's way of doing something, then that knowledge can pass from one person to another.
"I hope my assistants can take something from me that they'll be able to use later on down the line," continues Abram, "and I hope I can keep learning from them, too."