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Embrace your discomfort: leadership and unconscious bias in sport and exercise medicine
  1. Katherine Rose Marino1,2,
  2. Dane Vishnubala3,
  3. Osman Hassan Ahmed4,5,
  4. Phathokuhle Cele Zondi6,
  5. Jackie L Whittaker7,8,
  6. Andrew Shafik9,10,
  7. Christina Y Le11,
  8. Dean Chatterjee2,12,
  9. Anjolaoluwa Odulaja13,
  10. Nigel Edward Jones1,14,
  11. Jane S Thornton15,16
  1. 1 British Association of Sport and Exercise Medicine, Doncaster, South Yorkshire, UK
  2. 2 Nottingham University Hospitals NHS Trust, Nottingham, UK
  3. 3 Hull York Medical School, York, UK
  4. 4 Faculty of Health and Social Sciences, Bournemouth University, Bournemouth, Dorset, UK
  5. 5 The FA Centre for Disability Football Research, The Football Association, Burton upon Trent, Staffordshire, UK
  6. 6 Sports Science Institute of South Africa, Cape Town, South Africa
  7. 7 Department of Physical Therapy, Faculty of Medicine, The University of British Columbia, Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada
  8. 8 Arthritis Research Centre Of Canada, Richmond, British Columbia, Canada
  9. 9 South Tyneside NHS Foundation Trust, South Shields, South Tyneside, UK
  10. 10 Newcastle Thunder Academy, Newcastle, UK
  11. 11 Department of Physical Therapy, Faculty of Rehabilitation Medicine, University of Alberta, Edmonton, Alberta, Canada
  12. 12 Nottingham Rugby, Nottingham, UK
  13. 13 London North West University Healthcare NHS Trust, Harrow, UK
  14. 14 University of Liverpool, Liverpool, Merseyside, UK
  15. 15 Department of Family Medicine, Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry, London, Ontario, Canada
  16. 16 Fowler Kennedy Sport Medicine Clinic, London, Ontario, Canada
  1. Correspondence to Dr Katherine Rose Marino, British Association of Sport and Exercise Medicine, Doncaster, South Yorkshire, UK; katiemarino{at}

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Unconscious bias is present at all levels of society. It exists within our Sport and Exercise Medicine (SEM) community and is detrimental to the specialty and those it serves. Many may be unaware of how unconscious bias has impacted their career trajectory, and that of their peers. This editorial explores the concept of unconscious bias and prompts actions to initiate meaningful change.

How unconscious bias arises?

The human brain is complex, programmed to make quick judgements about people and situations based on visual, verbal and behavioural cues.1 Over time, unconscious pathways form between these cues and how we judge them, gaining strength with each unchallenged repetition. These habituated norms can leave us feeling unsettled when we experience something outside of our expectations. This is referred to as unconscious bias, a consequence of learnt stereotypes deeply ingrained within our beliefs, influencing the way we automatically and subconsciously engage with people and situations. The nature of our individual bias is nurtured from childhood through cultural conditioning, media portrayals and upbringing.2

Issues of unconscious bias in SEM

While conscious bias has created, and overtly contributes to, many of society’s inequalities, unconscious bias is covert, overlooked and too often unaddressed. Unconscious bias has perpetuated inequality resulting in certain groups having fewer rights, privileges and less power than others.3 It is ubiquitous, and the implications within SEM communities are significant, resulting in …

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  • Twitter @krmarino1, @danevishnubala, @osmanhahmed, @phatho_z, @jwhittak_physio, @yegphysio, @janesthornton

  • Contributors KRM and JST conceived the idea of creating a piece of work on this topic, resulting in the creation of this editorial. KRM designed the original version of the text. All authors contributed to the critical revision and approval of the final editorial.

  • Funding The authors have not declared a specific grant for this research from any funding agency in the public, commercial or not-for-profit sectors.

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Patient consent for publication Not required.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.