As physicians, we are trained to treat the patient and put the patient first. In the world of sports medicine, pressure exists from all sides: the athlete, the team, management and even the league, to return the player back to sports as quick as possible, or to allow players to play despite injuries.
In professional sports, the culture to “win at all costs” is everywhere. Unfortunately, this culture has permeated down to collegiate, high school and youth leagues. The mentality to win has become the supreme priority in sports participation at even the youngest ages.
I do believe, however, there is an easy way to approach these issues. A way that disperses the pressures and politics. Put the athlete first. Put the long term health and safety of the athlete at the top of all priorities, even winning. This isn’t always the most popular approach but it is the right one. I have and I will continue to do this myself the best I can. As a team physician, I want the team to win, but I also want players to live long, healthy lives.
Injuries are a part of sports, but it is my job as a physician to look out for more than athletes’ short term ability to return to play. It is just as important that we ensure their long term health is maximized so that when they have kids, they are able to play catch in the back yard or challenge them in a game of one-on-one. Sports are integral parts of our lives, but life is so much more than sports: living a long, healthy and active life takes priority. Let’s put the athlete first.