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Sports Medicine and Sports Scandals

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Medicine has come a long way since the beginning of time. Bullet wounds used to be burned to stop bleeding then patched with dirt. Luckily this isn’t the case anymore. The world, in particularly the sports world, has such advanced medication and treatments that injures that used to end a career may now only be a two month recovery. With the advances though comes setbacks, not in the area of health, but rather in the field of one's ethics and judgement. Is the push to get back on the field creating more problems? Do athletes look to gain an advantage, even if it’s illegal? Do certain treatments create an unfair advantage? These questions don't have definitive answers, but certainly raise important ethical views.

Injuries just like diseases have treatments that must go through FDA approval. Kobe Bryant, a professional basketball player, suffers from a lingering knee injury that has a treatment not allowed in the United States but is practiced in Germany. However, the treatment isn’t banned by the NBA, the treatment just can’t be performed on American soil. Should this be allowed though? Thinking about it could lead you delve into many different sets of beliefs. From one standpoint it should be fine because he doesn’t receive the treatment illegally in the United States. This is very similar to Magic Johnson constantly receiving HIV treatment in Germany that isn’t offered in the U.S. The treatment has saved Magic Johnson’s life, he has had HIV for about 23 years without it transforming into the deadly AIDS. Should a person be denied the most beneficial treatment because it isn’t offered in their country? Is that a serious injustice? Many would believe that it is okay to receive the proper treatment as long as it is done legally, and if that means traveling to another country then so be it. However others may not feel this way, others may view it as Kobe gaining an unfair advantage. Players with similar injuries making the NBA minimum, players signed to 10-day contracts, or players out of college trying to make the NBA might not be able to afford to travel to Germany multiple times a year to receive such treatment. These players don’t make the $30 million a year that kobe does. These lower paid players don’t have the kind of throw away money that the stars do. Is it unethical that the lower paid players be denied the opportunity for the same treatment because of a lack of money, or is it unethical to deny Kobe from a treatment that he can afford? Some may look to a compromise. Kobe travels to Germany to get treatment to help him play longer and make more money. He recently signed a two year extension worth $48.5 million. Magic Johnson on the other hand travels to Germany to save his life. There is a difference in motives, one is money, the other is about life. Where do you draw the line? That is the ethical issue, an issue that doesn’t have a clear resolution, and an issue that has many differing viewpoints.

Issues not only arise from foreign treatment, but also from domestic rehabilitation practices that are questioned by some. Tommy John Surgery is a surgical procedure which replaces a ligament in the elbow with a tendon from somewhere else in the body. Formally known as ulnar collateral ligament reconstruction, the surgery is nicknamed after the first player in MLB history to have gone through the procedure effectively; Tommy John. The surgery is most often performed on pitchers because of the constant throwing motion they do which puts their arm, particularly their elbow, under an immense amount of stress. The surgery has become so popular that is has been described as an epidemic by the surgeon who most often performs the procedure on players. “It seems like every year I’m doing more and more, so from my standpoint it’s an epidemic,” said Dr. James Andrews. For the doctor who makes money off the surgery to call it an epidemic is pretty scary. Players are putting too much faith into the procedure and seem to be overlooking other options. Dr. Andrews recently guided two pitchers away from Tommy John Surgery and advised them to rest and rehabilitate the elbow. If simply resting the elbow could potentially treat it, then why would one choose surgery? Perhaps visions of a brighter future could be the reason. There is a myth that the surgery actually increases a pitcher’s velocity, though doctors have dismissed that saying that an increase in velocity would be a result of the rehabilitation process that follows the surgery. Whatever the case may be, parents of young prospects have taken their children to doctors and requested Tommy John Surgery, even though the kids didn’t need it. The parents believe the surgery will increase the chances of the children getting scholarships to college or possibly making the pros. Giving your child a better opportunity to succeed and thrive is great, but putting them under the knife when it isn’t necessary is a bit extreme. What is even scarier is that recovering from the surgery to previous form or better isn’t a guarantee. Although the surgery has made great leaps in recent years, Dr. Andrews still said that people, “Don't realize the complications associated with the surgery. There's no injury that can't be made worse with surgery.'' Tommy John Surgery is great in certain cases but it isn’t necessarily the answer to most elbow injuries as it is believed to be.

One of the most common injuries in the NFL is a torn ACL in the knee. With the injury being so common, it is known that the recovery time is between nine months to a year. So why is that when Adrian Peterson returned from a torn ACL in four months and no one questioned it? Especially in an era where steroids and performance enhancing drugs are so common, and since the ACL is the ligament that allows an athlete to cut or change direction quickly, which is vital for a running back. Not only did Peterson return, he had the second best season in NFL history for a running back and won the MVP award. I’m not accusing him of taking steroids, I’m simply raising the debate. It is said that after ACL surgery the knee is never normal again, for Peterson that is exactly the case, his knee seems to be better than ever. Extensive rehab definitely helps a player recover more quickly, and there is no doubt that Peterson is a workaholic. Though to return to play four months later seems a bit unrealistic. Derrick Rose of the NBA tore his ACL and took an entire year off before he returned, and when he did return he tore it again. Rose had a series of Adidas commercials documenting his return, and he seemed to be a workaholic as well. For him to take a year off, return, then re-tear it and for Peterson to take four months off then win the MVP award seems odd. Maybe no one questioned it because Peterson is a likable person and people wanted the feel good story. The same scenario presented itself with Baltimore Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis two years ago. Early in the 2012-2013 season Lewis tore his tricep muscle and was ruled out for the remainder of the season. He was also set to retire at the end of the season; what a terrible ending for the face of Baltimore for the past 17 years. Suddenly reports surfaced that Lewis might possibly return around week 15 of the season, a remarkable comeback. When he did return just before the playoffs everyone was ecstatic including myself. How spoiled we all felt that we got to see Ray Lewis play again before he retired! Then Baltimore made a deep playoff run and was headed to the Super Bowl when headlines appeared about Ray using deer antler spray, a type of steroid which speeds up muscle growth and recovery. One might stop and say, “Well that makes sense considering he returned so quickly from such a serious injury,” but no one said that. Lewis denied reports and everyone supported him, once again myself included. It was his last season and no one wanted to believe that the ultimate leader and motivator cheated the game. Everyone wanted Ray Lewis to go out a champion, which he did. Reports of the deer antler spray started to fade and when he won the Super Bowl they seemed to disappear altogether. It was a textbook hollywood ending the incredible 17 year journey that Ray Lewis has taken us all on, and no one wanted it to be ruined in anyway, even if it meant possibly facing the truth. I don’t believe Lewis used the steroid, but I may be just as blinded by the emotional journey from injury to Super Bowl champion as everyone else. Peterson and Lewis both had unprecedented quick recoveries, but most credit that to their work ethic and to modern medicine, which is very possible, but is it possible something else, something illegal, deserves a little credit?

The sports world faces serious injuries to major players all the time. It’s unfortunate but the injuries are inevitable with such big and strong men coupled with the physicality of the games. Injuries to popular players make the games less interesting to fans, and may push athletes to get back on the field sooner rather than wait out the proper recovery time. Players may look to illegal or immoral ways to return, but fans look at it with differing opinions. Money always gives people an advantage in life, but should it in the sports world? Or should everything be on an even playing field? Some think it should be, others may think that is totalitarianism. These questions don’t have a definite answer, yet. One day there may be total agreement on the issue, but that would seem to only happen in a perfect world, and does perfect truly exist?



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