Sports Illustrated has a story hitting newsstands today that questions the medical coverage of the Penn State football program, and Tuesday night the school went on the offensive challenging the story.
"One of the aspects of the story is that they are essentially insinuating that the level of medical coverage in 2013 will be less than it was in 2012 because of the personnel changes that occurred earlier this year," PSU spokesman Jeff Nelson told the Mirror by phone. "That's completely false."
At the top of this week's Sports Illustrated is a headline for a special report written by David Epstein entitled "Do Athletics Still Have Too Much Power at Penn State?" Nelson spoke with reporters from several newspapers around the state as Penn State made an effort to try and get out in front of the story.
Penn State officials were able to read the story Tuesday, and Nelson said it is "really just on the medical care coverage for football."
"We just feel like there's a lot of inaccuracies," Nelson said. "They could have gone a little further in their reporting to paint the entire picture. That didn't occur."
The Sports Illustrated story, Nelson said, names some former PSU players as sources. None of the players played within the past few years, he added.
Penn State made changes to its football medical staff in February when Dr. Wayne Sebastianelli relinquished his roles as team doctor and orthopedic surgeon. He remains part of the school's medical staff.
It's unclear exactly what is insinuated in the Sports Illustrated article since it was not available Tuesday. One assertion appears to be that with Sebastianelli no longer serving as team doctor, the football program will not have the same high level of medical coverage.
"Dr. Sebastianelli is still our director of athletic medicine, so the team physicians that work with football and all the sports, they still report to him," Nelson said. "So while he may not be directly working with football anymore, the team docs that are will still be reporting to him and discussing with him what's going on with the football program. That wasn't brought up in the story at all."
Penn State issued several statements Tuesday night addressing the story, including ones from football coach Bill O'Brien and athletic director Dave Joyner.
"To characterize the medical care Penn State provides our student-athletes as anything other than the highest quality is erroneous," the university said in a statement.
O'Brien's statement said he was asked to "observe areas of the football program and then make recommendations," and one of those came in medical personnel. The new team physician is Dr. Peter Seidenberg, and the new orthopedic surgeon is Dr. Scott Lynch.
"From a coverage standpoint, we have exactly the same level of medical care as we had previously," O'Brien said. "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."
Nelson said Penn State did comparisons with other schools over the winter to see where its physician coverage stands.
"I saw responses from Alabama, Ohio State, LSU, Illinois, and our level of physician coverage for football would be considered equal or above the level of those four peer institutions," Nelson said.
STATEMENTS FROM PENN STATE
Statement from Penn State on forthcoming Sports Illustrated article:
"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."
The following are statements provided by Penn State to Sports Illustrated.
Dr. Harold Paz, senior vice president for Health Affairs, Chief Executive Officer, Penn State Hershey Medical Center and dean of the College of Medicine:
"As a former collegiate athlete and a fellowship-trained sports medicine physician, Dr. Scott Lynch has a tremendous understanding of the health care needs of Penn State's football team and a deep personal commitment to the well-being of its players. We have great confidence in his ability to serve as orthopedic consultant to the team. He will be in attendance at every Penn State football game and will meet weekly throughout the year with other members of the sports medicine team and injured players in State College to oversee the evaluation, treatment and recovery of our student athletes.
"In the event of an emergent medical need, our focus will be on providing the best possible care for the athlete. We have three Penn State Hershey-employed orthopedic surgeons based in State College, including Dr. Sebastianelli, that are credentialed to perform surgery at Mount Nittany Medical Center, fellowship-trained in sports medicine and can assist with care of the athlete. One of these surgeons is on-call 24 hours a day, seven days a week to ensure surgical coverage in the event of such an emergency. In rare instances of extremely complex problems that require Level I trauma care, an athlete may be transported to Penn State Hershey Medical Center. In addition, the football team physicians will continue to report directly to Dr. Sebastianelli. This same practice of emergency coverage in support of Penn State student-athletes has been in place for many years and will continue."
Bill O'Brien, Head Football Coach:
"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. Lynch and Dr. 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."
Below are credentials for Drs. Lynch and Seidenberg:
Dr. Seidenberg, who serves as team physician, is also associate professor of orthopedics and a primary care sports medicine physician for Penn State Hershey's orthopedic practice in State College. Dr. Lynch is an associate professor of orthopedics and director of orthopedic sports medicine at Penn State Hershey Medical Center, and he serves as the football program's orthopedic consultant.
Dr. David Joyner, Director of Athletics:
"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."
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."