When Jahvid Best went down with yet another concussion, I’m sure Detroit Lions back up running back Jerome Harrison felt ready to seize the opportunity of getting on the field and contributing, as all competitors do. Surely, Harrison’s spirits took a nose dive when shortly after, he found out he was being traded to the struggling Philadelphia Eagles (where he spent part of last season after being traded from the Browns) for Ronnie Brown. Little did Harrison know this unwelcome move by the Lions would be a blessing in disguise.
While we don’t know the details yet, a brain tumor is a brain tumor… you don’t want one, no matter what kind it is, and that, unfortunately, is what 28-year-old Harrison, in his sixth NFL season has. Eagles team doctors found the tumor while giving their new running back a physical exam which nullified the trade. Now Brown will stay put in Philly and Harrison is having the tumor treated. Hopefully we will get more information about his exact medical condition soon.
ESPN’s Adam Schefter writes, “The trade might have actually saved Harrison’s life, the sources said. Without the deal being made, Harrison would not have undergone a physical.”
If you have read my previous blog post about head injuries, concussions, depression and player suicide, you can guess where I’m headed here.
For many years, I’ve believed every player on a professional team should undergo three physical (including blood work, body scans) and psychological exams per season. Once before the season starts, again at mid-season and a third time at the end of the work year.
While I know my ideal is just that, an ideal (for many reasons such as cost, and teams surviving on “what we don’t know can’t hurt us” in regards to their players), imagine the impact such care could have in terms of both physical and mental health.
Hank Gathers. After collapsing during a game in December, 1989, the Loyola Marymount University basketball star was checked out and diagnosed with an exercise-induced abnormal heartbeat and prescribed medication. Gathers was fortunate to survive that first episode, but we all know how this story ends. Gathers had reportedly reduced his dosage of medication or perhaps stopped taking it all together because he felt it adversely affected his play on the court. Just a few months later, he collapsed at a West Coast Conference Tournament game and died shortly after.
Michigan high school basketball player Wes Leonard wasn’t as lucky as Gathers, never getting that initial second chance at life. The first collapse, which came after Leonard and his teammates celebrated his game-winning shot, would be his last. Shortly after his death in March of this year, the medical examiner said the 16-year-old died of cardiac arrest brought on by a condition called dilated cardiomyopathy. According to an LA Times article by Eryn Brown, “people with dilated cardiomyopathy have enlarged and weakened hearts that cannot pump blood through the body efficiently. The American Heart Association has advised that children with dilated cardiomyopathy should not play competitive sports ‘because of the possibility of a sudden collapse or increased heart failure.’”
The last sentence suggests that such ailments, like Gathers’ condition, can be diagnosed by a doctor, certainly, before death.
Unfortunately, the idea of such screenings is a bit of a mixed bag. Famed Chicago Bears running back Brian Piccolo passed a full physical, including a chest x-ray in July heading into the 1969 football season. Four months later, the 26-year-old was diagnosed with cancer after a grapefruit-sized tumor was discovered in his chest cavity. Piccolo died less than a year later.
David Epstein provides more details on the pros and cons of screening athletes in his Sports Illustrated column:
“A study published last year by doctors at Massachusetts General Hospital reported on a program that screened 510 Harvard University athletes. That study identified 11 athletes with heart abnormalities that had not been previously identified, and three of those athletes ultimately had to be restricted from sports…At the same time, about one in every six athletes was given a false positive result that required follow-up, begging the question of whether a mandatory nationwide screening program would be effective from a financial and emotional standpoint, given current diagnostic tools.”
Clearly this discussion opens up a massive can of worms and perhaps there is no easy or obvious solution to the problems faced by athletes, athletic institutions and medical providers. But it’s still a discussion worth having. Just ask Jerome Harrison.
Read more of David Epstein’s story about athletes and heart conditions: http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/2011/writers/david_epstein/03/08/enlarged.hearts/index.html#ixzz1bLkr1kLY
Have you ever set foot in an MLB dugout? I would rather lick a city sidewalk then walk barefoot in a dugout. I’m not kidding. The dirt, water, Gatorade and sunflower seeds aren’t so bad, but puddles of brown chew spit with floating pieces of tobacco, mucus, and bits of food that only one’s dental floss should see is what really gets me.
The truth is that disgusting dugouts doesn’t even make the list of important reasons why a group of senators and health officials from St. Louis and Dallas are asking the players union to agree to toss the tins and play a tobacco-free World Series.
In April of this year the U.S. Congress held hearings on banning smokeless tobacco in Major League Baseball and even MLB commissioner Bug Selig supports the idea. With the players not on board (we’ll get to that in a minute), all that a group of senators could do was send letters to the players union urging them to consider the impact that chewing tobacco and dipping during the nationally televised World Series, which begins Wednesday, could have on millions of children.
The Associated Press obtained the letters sent by Democrat senators from Illinois, New Jersey, Connecticut and Iowa to union head Michael Weiner, which read, in part, “when players use smokeless tobacco, they endanger not only their own health, but also the health of millions of children who follow their example.”
Baseball’s current collective bargaining agreement expires in December of this year so putting the pressure on at this time is a strategic move in hopes of implementing a ban through the next CBA. In June, Weiner said the union would make an effort to address the issue in negotiations, but a few months earlier when the issue came up on Capitol Hill in April, the Major League Players Association said it discourages players from using smokeless tobacco but would not encourage a ban on the practice. David Prouty of the Players Association said at the time, “We will educate players as to why they should not use it. There is a tension here, because many players do not think they should be banned from using a product which congress has so far, deemed to be legal.”
Flawed logic my friend. Alcohol is legal, yet not allowed to be consumed on the baseball diamond (don’t feel bad for these guys, as we now know, some are drinking during the games inside the clubhouse instead of on the bench, so no biggie there). Cigarettes are also banned from stadiums, and are even outlawed from being smoked on city streets in places like Calabasas and Santa Monica, California, yet are still legal to purchase and use elsewhere. In fact, smokeless tobacco has been banned in both collegiate and minor league baseball for decades.
A few months ago, HBO’s Real Sports with Bryant Gumble did a story on smokeless tobacco in baseball, claiming nearly one third of MLB players use it. Ike Davis of the New York Mets, who started the habit at age 16 said, “why would you want to start that? It dissent make sense.” Reporter Jon Frankel followed up asking, “so why do you keep doing it?” Davis replied, “it’s called addiction.”
Many baseball players who dip or chew will tell you it’s a disgusting habit they wish they never picked up. So why would you want to expose others to that same fate? In his piece, Frankel interviewed a dentist and professor of public health at Harvard University who studied the topic. The New England native conducted a study using the 2004 World Series featuring his hometown Boston Red Sox and St. Louis Cardinals. The study found nine whole minutes worth of public use, as in, noticeably seeing tobacco on screen (chewing, spitting, bulge in the mouth, etc), and that five million children between the ages of 12 and 17 years old were watching.
While many players feel like an official ban is too much policing for their liking, I would argue that they are already policed in just about everything from daily schedules to the uniforms they wear. The AP article about the tobacco-free World Series plea says that some players are open to the ban on smokeless tobacco, which is great.
Athletes and entertainers alike often say that they shouldn’t be our children’s role models, but that we, as parents should be the ones setting examples for our kids. I agree, in large part, which is all the more reason why I think smokeless tobacco, which is a proven cause of several cancers, should be banned from major league ballparks.
As a reporter covering the Boston Red Sox, not one day went by where I didn’t see several canisters of chewing tobacco in almost every locker in the clubhouse. Those shiny tins were always the first things on the shelves to grab my attention for some reason. I wonder if the same was true for now 7-year-olds D’Angelo Ortiz and little Victor Martinez, both of whom would come to work with their daddies, David and Victor, donning little uniforms and all, nearly every single home game. I hope Cardinals and Rangers players consider their own children before scooping some dip into their mouths on Wednesday night.
For the Associated Press article with all of the details of the senators’ efforts to have a tobacco-free World Series, click here http://www.google.com/hostednews/ap/article/ALeqM5ivlkZ-nWu3Um7FF-xOcWDxhf91Jw?docId=833af3149044498e8e6a6d05a26974f7
To watch the Real Sports with Bryant Gumble story on tobacco in baseball , click here http://tobaccofreeaz.wordpress.com/2011/05/23/hbo-real-sports-looks-at-potential-smokeless-tobacco-ban-in-baseball/