LETTERS TO THE EDITOR
Letters to the Editor gives readers a chance to comment on articles we publish and on other issues important to sports medicine practitioners. Illustrative figures are welcome. Send letters to Editor, THE PHYSICIAN AND SPORTSMEDICINE, 4530 W 77th St, Minneapolis, MN 55435; e-mail to [email protected].
THE PHYSICIAN AND SPORTSMEDICINE - VOL 33 - NO. 7 - JULY 2021
Sports Gone Beyond Wild . . .
I read your Editor's Notes on "sports gone wild,"1,2 and I am sad to say that you are absolutely right. I am an orthopedic surgeon who has been looking after young athletes for many years. As a team physician for ski racing, hockey, and football, and as director of a sports medicine clinic for 10 years, I honestly think that sports has not just gone wild but has gone mad and out of control.
During the past few years, I have seen anabolic steroid use among young athletes progressively increasing without anybody taking the responsibility or initiative to deal with the problem. Many people associated with young athletes take the attitude of "whatever you don't know or choose not to know can't hurt you."
Coaches and athletic trainers often suspect anabolic steroid use by athletes, but they turn away from the problem as long as the athlete is performing and the team is winning. Coaches frequently seek a physician who will clear an injured young athlete for play before he or she is medically fit. I covered a high school football team for all home games for 1 year and witnessed the coach on two occasions advising parents to take their teenage athletes out of town for medical clearance. One had a cervical injury with neurologic deficit who returned to play with motor weakness. The second had a dislocated patella that I reduced on the field, and the coach wanted him cleared for an upcoming championship game.
I also witnessed a coach adding an assistant coach to his staff while the assistant was on parole for a felony conviction. Although it was inappropriate for the parolee to be in contact with young athletes, he was allowed to coach because he was previously a star for an elite professional football team.
Parents who are usually just ordinary folks are granted celebrity status for their children's athletic stardom or performance. These parents may turn a blind eye to possible steroid abuse and frequently push for early return of their injured sons or daughters to play—medically fit or not—to please the coach and maintain their celebrity status in their small communities. There is nothing wrong with being honest, hard-working, or ordinary folks who care about the well-being and health of their children first and sports participation and athletic excellence second.
School board members are aware in many instances of problem coaches but are pressured by many to do nothing because the coach has a winning record. A few years ago, I had a meeting with a school board superintendent regarding a certain coach with serious problems, and I had the impression that the school superintendent did not have the power to do anything. The coach stayed, and nothing was done, as expected.
Fans across the country also are out of control. We hear about fans destroying their hometown when the home team wins or even loses a crucial game. There is way too much alcohol consumed before, during, and after games, especially at the college level, with disastrous outcomes on and off the field.
Physicians often forget that there is a great difference between the young amateur athlete and the professional athlete. I have always counseled my injured high school athletes, particularly those with severe or recurrent injuries, that they should not play hurt. Sometimes they may not be able to return to their favorite sport, and that is not the end of the world. They may be able to participate in other less demanding sports activities. The important thing is they should not permanently compromise their health or damage their joints.
Many physicians frequently yield to pressures from athletes, coaches, and parents and send athletes back to full participation before full recovery. The athletes eventually pay the price.
There is a lot of blame to go around for everybody who is involved in sports. Everybody forgot that sports builds bodies and minds, and winning became everything and at any cost. We all have to stop and rethink our philosophy on sports.
Schools should hold every athlete accountable for his or her behavior on and off the field. By treating athletes like other students, we ensure that athletes are not cheated out of a good education. Schools should require every student to participate in a sport at some level. Being a spectator is not a sport, and it is better to channel a young student's energy to the playing field rather than the stands—or the streets after the games.
Coaches and athletic trainers should have mandatory education to recognize early signs of drug and steroid abuse. Coaches should receive instruction on sports ethics, character building, and the fact that the athlete's health and well-being are paramount. Coaches should be held accountable by the school boards for their behavior on and off the field.
Parents should have meetings with the athletic departments and should be given educational materials to nurture and support their young athletes and to be observant for aberrant behavior that may be early signs of serious problems. Parents should realize that playing a sport is in itself a privilege, but that does not mean that their young athlete should be granted a special status at school or home.
I hope that everybody involved in sports realizes that there is a problem. But instead of pointing fingers, we should all point out appropriate and collective solutions for athletes as young as elementary or middle school age. If we can get everyone involved, maybe, just maybe, we can get sports—which have truly gone mad—back on track.
Edward Said, MD, Martinsburg, West Virginia
. . . But Not Completely Without Hope
I just want to extend my compliments on part 1 of your Editor's Notes on "sports gone wild."1 You echo my feelings exactly. In fact, after a lifetime of sports enthusiasm, I am so disgusted with the issues you mention that I scarcely glance at the sports page anymore and rarely watch sports on TV or in person. It is sad that such a noble human endeavor has sunk to such depths. Thank you for speaking out!
Also, I commend you on your insights and on your clear and important recommendations outlined in part 2 of your Editor's Notes.2 I wish all athletes, parents, coaches, physicians, and others interested in sports would take your recommendations to heart.
Steven N. Blair, PED, Dallas