With Doctors on the Sidelines, Winning at All Costs Is No Longer an Option

Concussions, fractures, ACL injuries: It is no secret that playing sports can be associated with injuries. In today’s games, however, players, coaches – and now doctors – have skin in the game.

Team doctors are common at all levels of sports, but as contact sports like football and soccer become faster and the frequency of play increases, doctors’ judgment calls are taking on a game-changing significance.

“Safety for the player is the number one thing that we consider,” said Seth C. Gamradt, MD, associate professor of clinical orthpaedic surgery and director of orthopaedic athletic medicine for the department of USC Orthopaedic Surgery at Keck Medicine of USC. “There are certain injuries or mishaps that are safe to play with after they occur, like mild sprains and bruises; but there are some injuries that are not safe to play with, like a concussion. It is our job to hold a player out and protect them, even if it is a critical juncture of the game.”

Dr. Gamradt, who has also worked with the New York Giants and UCLA’s athletic department, is part of the American Orthopedic Society of Sports Medicine, which develops guidelines for safety of athletes. Their decisions impact multiple factors, including how the game is played and how often athletes participate in direct contact.

“We help decide the safety rules and regulations,” he said. Based on experience and research, Dr. Gamradt and his colleagues weigh in on topics that range from how many contact practices are held each week to the amount of rest the players need between practices. “We just came out with safety regulations for wrestling,” he explains. “It is a completely different set of issues than we see in football, but nonetheless we are on the forefront of the safety of the athletes.”

In addition to preventing injury and caring for injured players, team doctors also anticipate problems that might arise from something they see happen on field, like a particularly hard hit.

“One of the things we do now is travel with a spotter who sits with the announcers,” Dr. Gamradt said. “If they notice something on the field, they will contact us and say, ‘Check out number 31, I think he got up groggily,’ or ‘They took a big hit.’ That way we can check the player out before the injury occurs or is worsened by further play.”

How do the doctors make the call to send players back on the field or keep them out of play?

“The game cannot come in the way of player safety, even when they want to play, even when the coach wants them to play, even when our decisions might affect the outcome of the game,” Dr. Gamradt said. “We see when players can play and when they can’t, and we do not want to put them at risk. Above all, our job is to protect the athletes.”


Schedule a sports physical to determine whether it is safe for you to play a sport.

Do you have questions about sports-related or orthopaedic injuries? Reach out to your primary care physician for help. If you are local to Southern California and in search of an sports physical or primary care physician, call (800)USC-CARE (800-872-2273) or visit www.keckmedicine.org/request-an-appointment/ to schedule an appointment.

By Heidi Tyline King