The Problem With Team Doctors

Last week’s news that Seattle Seahawks receiver Percy Harvin would undergo surgery, requiring 12 to 16 weeks recovery time, was alarming to fans who see Harvin as the piece that would propel Seattle ahead of division rival San Francisco.

But what happened behind the scenes was revealing of relations between team doctors and players, and the lack of trust between management and players.

After coming over from the Vikings, the oft-injured (and subject to migraines) Harvin was complaining of hip pain caused by a partly torn labrum. Two weeks ago the Seahawks’ doctor cleared Harvin for practice, but the speedy slotback felt uncomfortable and announced he would seek a second opinion. Harvin then was examined by an outside specialist, who recommended immediate surgery.

Let’s see, team doctor paid by the Seahawks says player is ready to go. Independent doc says surgery now. Not to say that the issue isn’t more complicated than those facts would indicate, but players have grown increasingly wary of the decisions of doctors paid for by teams. And according to a former NFL executive who asked to remain nameless because he still has a business relationship with the league, there is reason for player concern.

“The owners don’t care one whit about the players,” he said. “They are replaceable parts, and are regarded as such.”

And player distrust is not limited to the NFL. Last February, Chicago Bulls point guard Derrick Rose was cleared to play by team doctors following surgery and rehab for his torn ACL. Rose didn’t feel ready and did not play at all, even when his team began to advance through the playoffs. And just recently, embattled New York Yankee third baseman Alex Rodriguez rejected a team doctor’s diagnosis that indicated he had a quadriceps injury. A-Rod announced a second doctor’s opinion that he was healthy and could play. While there appears to be a reversal of the usual order, there is considerable insurance money the Yankees might receive if Rodriguez can’t play, so the team doctors’ diagnosis dovetailed nicely with the team’s interest.

There was a time when the doctor was assumed to be an independent voice rendering a decision without bias or prejudice, but players seeking second opinions shows that this is no longer perceived to be the case. And you can bet that a huge number of players took note of the developments in the Harvin case, which did nothing to assuage player fear about the independence of team doctor decisions.

* No joke, Pittsburgh has the best record in baseball. Andrew McCutcheon and company are finding ways to win, and the pitching has been outstanding, both from starters and relievers.

There is still a long way to go, and the Cardinals are a very good team. But barring a late summer swoon, the Bucs should at minimum be a wild card team.

And the crowds are back. A weekday doubleheader against St. Louis last week drew more than 33,000 fans.

It might be time to bust out the old Sister Sledge hit that fueled the Pirates to the 1979 World Series crown, We Are Family.