At least one time in our sports-watching lifetimes we have seen a player go down hard, wrenching a gut reaction of “Oooh! That’s not good!” from the fans. We wait breathlessly to see if the player can stand on his own or if he needs help from a stretcher. Once the player leaves the field for concussion and broken bone tests, we, the armchair doctors, debate the medical condition, and what it could mean for the team. Each team has their own doctor that determines the extent of the injury, healing time, and when the player can return to the game. Sometimes, a player returns to the field earlier than expected which leads one to wonder if it is safe for him to do so.  Unfortunately, with the objective of winning games, if a star player is injured, it affects the team, the owners, and the fans, and it’s imperative to hear a good prognosis for the injured player, as fast as possible. Pressure from outside influences, on professional sports teams, in particular, can lead to a player being released back into the field too early. We have all heard stories of sports doctors threatened with firing if a player isn’t returning quick enough, but is this ethical, fair, or expected? Sports teams hire their own doctors which is beneficial and at the same time potentially harmful. The sports doctor gets to know the players history. He learns over time what each player can handle, and can assess that what might seem like a bad injury to others may only be minor and release the player back into the field sooner, rather than later.  The drawbacks to having a more personal relationship are pressures from the player, himself, on the doctor, insisting he is “fine” or well enough to go back in. Allowing this could cause even worse injury down the road. Pressures from the coach and the owners on the doctor may also allow a player to be hurt in the long run. An alternative to having a personal doctor for the team would be for the leagues to hire a doctor for them.  He would be a neutral, non-partisan employee. This doctor would be on the league medical staff, rather than a personal team doctor. This doctor would not be required to report to the coach or owners, but to higher up medical personnel in the league itself.  With appointing league doctors, however, it could prove difficult to have one medical standard for all to follow. Will the doctors rotate teams to avoid partiality? If Doctor A thinks Player 1 can go back to the field, but Doctor B does not, who is right? Will a third doctor need to weigh in? Will the players have any say in their recovery? Both scenarios have positive benefits and negative aspects that need addressed.  The only thing that should matter is the health and safety of all the team members. I don’t advocate for or against the present day situation.  My goal is to shed light on a potential  situation that may present with  perceived conflict of interest.

© 2023 Dr. Robert Afra – San Diego Orthopedic Surgery Shoulder – Knee – Elbow