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Penn State Football: Sports Illustrated Probes Penn State Athletics’ Medical Program

by on May 15, 2013 12:30 AM

Update 4:30 P.M:

Penn State has released information comparing its in-season medical coverage to several schools across the nation. The comparisons can be seen below edited only for formatting.

Football Physician In-Season Coverage

Penn State

- Primary care physician attends all practices and games. On Sunday, examines every player who played in the game previous day and any others in need of attention.

- Orthopedic physician attends at least one practice each week (Wed.) and all games. Available post-practice Monday, Tuesday and Thursday if necessary.  On Sunday, is available to examine all players.

Iowa

- Primary care physician is available to attend practice and see players post-practice Monday-Friday. On Sunday, is available to examine all players.

- Orthopedic physician is available post-practice Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. On Sunday, is available to examine all players.

LSU

- Primary care physician available post-practice Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. On Sunday, is available to examine all players.

- Orthopedic physician available post-practice Tuesday and Wednesday. On Sunday, is available to examine all players.

Michigan State

- Primary care physician is available to attend practice and see players post-practice Monday-Friday. On Sunday, is available to examine all players.

- Orthopedic physician is available post-practice Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. On Sunday, is available to examine all players.

Northwestern

- Primary care physician is available to attend practice and see players post-practice Monday-Friday. On Sunday, is available to examine all players.

- Orthopedic physician is available post-practice once or twice a week. On Sunday, is available to examine all players.

Nebraska

- Primary care physician is available to attend practice and see players post-practice Monday-Friday. On Sunday, is available to examine all players.

- Orthopedic physician is available post-practice Tuesday and Wednesday. On Sunday, is available to examine all players.

Ohio State

- A primary care physician is available to see players early a.m. Monday-Friday and post-practice on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. On Sunday, the physician is available to examine all players. Attends all games.

- An Orthopedic physician is available to see players post-practice on Tuesday and Wednesday. On Sunday, is available to examine all players. Attends all games. At least one of the three team physicians attends practice or a part of practice every day and sees players at the conclusion of each practice as needed for new injuries or follow-up care.

Update: 11:30 a.m.

More now, on the Sports Illustrated report that's highly critical of the medical staff that oversees and treats Penn State's student-athletes.  The Sports Illustrated article released Wednesday suggests that a rivalry, both professional and personal, between Athletic Director Dave Joyner and former team physician Wayne Sebastianelli led to Sebastianelli's reassignment in early February. 

Interestingly enough, both of Joyner's sons played football under head coach Joe Paterno. Joyner's son Andy had to undergo ACL surgery following the Rose Bowl in 1994. Sebastianelli had served as the team's doctor since 1992, when the rivalry reportedly began. In a phone conversation, Andy Joyner recalled how he and his family chose Sebastianelli to do his surgery despite having other options available.

"I talked to my dad about it and he had the utmost confidence in Dr Sebastianelli doing my surgery," Joyner said. "In fact after the fact Wayne also oversaw my rehab and recovery as well. A lot of guys will stay within the program if you have a good team doctor, but guys have the option to go anywhere as well. It was not a minor surgery although it is common, and I think as far as everything else that says a lot."

Update 10:00 a.m.

In an expansive eight-page article, Sports Illustrated reporter David Epstein lays out the career path of Penn State Athletic Director David Joyner. It includes Joyner's alleged run-in with longtime Penn State team physician Wayne Sebastianelli. Sebastianelli was reassigned only days after the announcement that the University would remove the "interim" tag from Joyner's title.

The article also details Joyner's background in business and athletics and questions whether Joyner's credentials made him qualified to become Penn State's AD in the first place. Joyner is a health care and business consultant and an orthopedic surgeon. Founder, Chairman and CEO of Joyner Sports Medicine Institute (JSI) from 1992-98, he started 19 physical therapy centers in eight states. Joyner's therapy centers offered state-of-the-art training and rehabilitation services.

Epstein outlines several incidents which brings to light possible issues with medical care under Joyner's tenure by head trainer Tim Bream. Some of the allegations included in the Sports Illustrated article include:

"Three sources saw Bream-who does not have a medical degree- giving players the anti-inflammatory drug Voltaren without a prescription or a physician's approval. Two of those three also say Bream gave a player the prescription drug Bentyl for diarrhea, when the drug is actually meant to treat irritable bowel syndrome."

"Sources saw Bream engaging in other procedures requiring special certification or a medical licence. These include using an X-ray machine, administering an inhaler to a player who does not have asthma and lacing a boil on a player's neck."

Penn State has vehemently defended the care of athletes under Bream.

"We did benchmarking with some peer institutions in February and of the responses we received back that I have seen, the level of physician coverage for Penn State football is equal to or above the coverage at Alabama, Ohio State, Illinois and LSU." A university spokesperson said.

The overarching allegation from this article maintains that a possible and personal vendetta held by Joyner against Sebastianelli led to his reassignment and subsequently lead to substandard care for student athletes at Penn State.

Joyner released the following statement regarding these allegations.

“Care of our student-athletes is a top priority for Penn State, as it always has been. The present medical care model is very consistent with peer institutions in the Big Ten and elsewhere. The present system offers appropriate and exceptional medical care for our student-athletes." It's terribly unfortunate some want to make baseless accusations. We refuse to engage in a such a conversation. The vast majority of Penn Staters want the focus to be on our dedicated student-athletes, as it should be."

Stay with StateCollege.com as the story continues to unfold.

Original Story 12:30 a.m.

Penn State athletics has issued a statement that defends its recently-realigned medical staff and disputes a forthcoming Sports Illustrated article that hits the newsstands on Wednesday.

In addition, the article calls into question administrative moves made within the medical department over the past several months by athletic director Dave Joyner, who is trained as an orthopedic surgeon.

"Special Report: Do Athletics Still Have Too Much Power at Penn State?" is written by David Epstein, who authored numerous pieces about the Sandusky scandal in November 2011.

The report comes on the heels of the reassignment of longtime football team doctor Wayne Sebastianelli in late February 2013. The move of Sebastianelli out of the football program was made with the strong support of second-year head football coach Bill O’Brien. At the time, Penn State issued the following statement: "The change in physicians was made after a review of procedures and personnel by Coach O'Brien and is part of an ongoing reorganization of the football staff.''

On Tuesday night, a source who received an advanced copy of the article told StateCollege.com that the article will call into question Joyner's athletic administrative experience. The source said unnamed Board of Trustees members are featured as well as a few named members of the Penn State community. Those board members left unnamed will be "easy to figure out," according to the source, who also said that the article's “one-sided nature” may be considered a "hit job" by some.

Also on Tuesday night, Penn State jumped out ahead of the pending story with the following comments, issued by Jeff Nelson, associate athletic director for communications:

“To characterize the medical care Penn State provides our student-athletes as anything other than the highest quality is erroneous. Access to urgent and quality care for our athletes is no less than where it was at any point in the past 20 years.

“We provided Sports Illustrated with facts and data that demonstrate our commitment to our student athletes and how we compare to other peer institutions. Instead, the article sensationalizes in order to insinuate lower standards and largely ignores statements from the Dean of the College of Medicine. Contrary to the reporter’s assertions, Dr. Sebastianelli remains the doctor in charge of the University’s entire medical program for intercollegiate athletics, including football. Further, there has been no change in the support provided by State College-based Penn State orthopedic surgeons, including Dr. Sebastianelli.”

Penn State has been featured on the cover of Sports Illustrated three times over the past 19 months with articles titled "Failure & Shame of Penn State," "We Were Penn State,"and "We Are Still Penn State."

Penn State Coach Bill O'Brien also offered a response to the article.

“When I was hired as the Head Football Coach at Penn State, I was asked to observe areas of the football program and then make recommendations. After observing our medical organization in the football program for a full year, I recommended that it would be in the best interests of our program, and most importantly our student-athletes, to make a change in the team physicians. Dr. (Scott) Lynch and Dr. (Peter) Seidenberg were identified as excellent doctors who could serve in this role. Dr. Seidenberg will attend our practices and Dr. Lynch will be here on game day. From a coverage standpoint, we have exactly the same level of medical care as we had previously. The same surgeons as last year are available to players who would need that level of attention. Nothing about our level or quality of athlete care has changed. These young men mean a great deal to me and our staff. They give their all to Penn State. I will always recommend what I feel is best for our student-athletes in every area of the football program.” 

A Statement by Penn State Athletics:

"Questions and rumors about the head athletic trainer were investigated by an outside law firm in January. The trainer and supervisory physicians were interviewed. The legal team's report concluded there was no credible or substantial evidence to support the allegations or rumors, and there was no wrongdoing or violation of any professional standards. The report also concluded that none of the physicians who supervise the head trainer had made or documented any contemporaneous complaints to anyone or discussed with the trainer any concerns about overstepping bounds of care. Mr. Bream is a respected and dedicated professional who provides care to hundreds of our student-athletes.”

Continue to follow StateCollege.com as the story develops.



Ben Jones covers Penn State football and basketball for StateCollege.com. He's on Twitter as @Ben_Jones88.
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