Watson case revives old struggle for massage therapy industry

Watson case revives old struggle for massage therapy industry

CLEVELAND (AP) – Michelle Krause still faces the challenge of recognizing that she is a massage therapist when she meets someone, fearing their reaction or misguided comments, even after 18 years in the profession.

“It makes you not want to share, so I didn’t,” says Krause, 52, a former firefighter who changed careers after sustaining a neck injury at work — and getting help recovering from massage therapy. “So I told people I did nutrition and finance so they wouldn’t want to talk to me about my work.”

Krause was among hundreds of therapists from across the country who gathered for the American Massage Therapy Association’s three-day national convention, which began Thursday. It was an opportunity to talk about a job that has become more difficult amid the pandemic, the 2021 attack on three Atlanta-area massage companies in which eight people were killed, and the lingering stain of NFL quarterback Deshaun’s ongoing case. Watson who perpetuated the sex worker stigma. around the industry.

The latter is in their faces each day of the conference, which is being held in Cleveland. Watson is now the Browns’ quarterback and his new workplace is just a block from the convention center and conference attendees’ hotel across the street.

They can avoid the reminder by taking another route to the convention center – walking underground.

Not that these professionals want to hide. They didn’t ask for any of this and they’re not happy about it.

The convention was planned three years ago, well before the first report of the quarterback being accused of sexual misconduct with a massage therapist and Watson’s demand to be traded by the Houston Texans. The NFL awarded Watson an 11-game suspension and a $5 million fine this month and says the case is closed.

But it is far from over for this group of professionals and for the AMTA, which believes the sanctions are not tough enough.

“It surprises me that something like this could happen,” said Amber Rasmussen, a 21-year-old therapist who currently works in Rapid City, South Dakota.

Massage therapy as a licensed profession has a long history, dating back to 1916, when Ohio became the first state to license operators. Currently, therapists are regulated or certified by 45 states, with hundreds of hours required to be licensed and more in continuing education to maintain certification. Massage therapy is now covered under Medicare Advantage programs and some insurance.

There are stories of massage therapists leaving the industry after the recent crises, although no definitive numbers are available indicating any mass exodus.

The roughly 2,000 therapists in attendance at this year’s convention are similar to 2019, the last gathering after conferences in 2020 and 2021 were canceled due to the pandemic.

Michaele Colizza, the association’s national president, said there was still much work to be done to educate the public about the important role massage therapy plays in health care, pain management, and keeping athletes in shape and exercising. your sports.

“AMTA firmly believes that any customer who crosses the line of inappropriate touching must face legal consequences,” Colizza said in a statement. “Additionally, irresponsible comments made by lawyers or in media coverage put licensed professional massage therapists at risk by tolerating inappropriate conduct in a massage setting.”

“We believe massage is and always should be about health and well-being in a safe environment,” she said.

Michael Phelps was the keynote speaker on Thursday. Krause recalled how everyone wanted to try cupping therapy as therapy after seeing the 23-time Olympic gold medalist use it during the 2016 Summer Games. Phelps, who won 28 medals in total, also credited massage therapy, positive publicity for the 2016 Summer Games. sector.

But that was fleeting — the Atlanta murders by a white gunman who targeted Asian spa companies and the Watson case cast therapists in a different light.

“It’s really upsetting,” said Krause, who had to block a former firefighter for his inappropriate joke on his business page. “It’s disrespectful.”

NFL players can still use their own masseuses outside of team headquarters. Part of Watson’s deal restricts him to massage sessions with club-approved therapists for the rest of his career.

While there were no anti-Watson protests outside Cleveland’s Huntingdon Convention Center, nor any mention of the Browns quarterback inside, there was an undercurrent that suggested he was a push for what some believe needs to be done from here to there. front.

Conference topics focused on education, ethics, checking on potential customers, and setting boundaries. Therapists also spoke about renewed diligence about where they work and how they do their jobs.

Mary Czech, from Whitmore Lake, Michigan, told her, sadly, that the latest controversy is nothing new.

The college graduate is fully licensed in her home state and certified in massage oncology. She has assured over 20 years in the profession that she knows how to escape a massage parlor if a client acts inappropriately, right down to the location of the nearest phone and police department.

“This has been something I’ve struggled with,” the 55-year-old said. “I’ve always had a security plan, and that’s not right.”

Watson’s case revived the disconnect between what massage therapists do and what people think they do.

Krause only works by referral now. The former firefighter recalled an incident 16 years ago when a man grabbed her arm and praised her biceps.

“I actually twisted his arm… and said, ‘I touch you. You don’t touch me,'” said Krause, of Severna Park, Maryland. “He tried to hug me at the end of the session and, thank God, I was in a more public place.”

Dawn Menning, from Aberdeen, South Dakota, said she wears a uniform to emphasize the professional aspect of the massage.

“I’m dressed in medical clothes, I’m wearing a uniform,” said Menning, who also keeps a large wooden spoon nearby in case someone tries something inappropriate. “I’m trying to give the impression that you’re here for therapeutic treatment, and there’s nothing else.”

Mentoring young therapists is another key, say experienced therapists, reminding them that they have the right to refuse service.

Tonia McGeorge, 36, of Ipswich, South Dakota, does home visits, has her own mobile studio and also works at a spa in Aberdeen.

“It could be someone who has $1 million,” McGeorge said. “But is it worth your career and reputation? … Your reputation is your integrity.”

This is the big battle for a profession with so many women running their own businesses.

Marcella Thompson, of Louisville, Kentucky, said a therapist received a call from a potential client asking for other services. The therapist warned the caller that she would follow the law, sharing her name and number with the police.

“We have to be less intimidated,” Thompson said, “and be tougher and make sure those boundaries are completely clear.”

Czech is staging his own Watson protest. The Michigan native, who has been a bit of a Browns fan during the Detroit Lions’ struggles, thought about watching Cleveland’s preseason finale Saturday night while in town.

But frustrated with the NFL, Czech said, “I’m not going to a Browns game right now.”

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AP sports writer Tom Withers contributed to this report.

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Follow Teresa M. Walker at https://twitter.com/TeresaMWalker

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More AP NFL: https://apnews.com/hub/nfl and https://apnews.com/hub/pro-32 and https://twitter.com/AP_NFL

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