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
Jackie Pepper is a sports journalist with nearly a decade of experience. As an anchor and reporter for Comcast SportsNet in Boston she covered the Patriots, Celtics, Red Sox and Bruins for the network's flagship show SportsNet Central and sister station New England Cable News.
In addition to her work with Comcast Boston, Pepper also anchored and reported for CBS affiliate KIDK, covering the Utah Jazz and various sports teams throughout the United States.
Pepper began her sports journalism career as a college radio reporter and talk show host at the University of Arizona. She went on to work for ABC Sports, ESPN and NFL Network. Recently she started her own sports website, www.pepperonsports.com, featuring daily interviews, commentary and articles on the latest sports news.
Pepper also frequently contributes to LIVE radio broadcasts as a guest sports and cultural analyst.
VIDEO RESUME: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E22wrK2EX_I