A Sharapova Moment

The world of sports medicine is never boring, but who knew things could get this interesting?

In the first weeks of March, there have been at least two major stories that have transcended the borders of ‘sports medicine’ and become topics of debate for the world at large — I speak of the proposed ban on tackling in schoolboy rugby (and the continued debate on tackling in American football) and Maria Sharapova’s admission that she failed a drug test at the recent Australian Open.  For both stories, the boundaries of the discussion have gone well beyond the lines of the playing fields and the walls of the academy.

Social media has seen these topics trending. The mainstream media have been profiling the issues as well.  The Economist weighed in on the debate about tackling. And this morning I found the New York Times prominently featuring Ms. Sharapova’s story, including articles on the drug meldonium [for which Sharapova tested positive] and on the issue of the World Anti-doping Agency’s (WADA) use of emails to notify individuals about changes on WADA’s banned substance list.

Many people have an opinion on the subjects.   We’ve been running a poll on this blog regarding the issue of tackling, while our friends at the British Journal of Sports Medicine (BJSM) have been running a Twitter poll on the Sharapova issue: who is responsible, the player or her support staff [currently the poll is 74%/26% stating it’s the athlete’s responsibility].

In the New York Times article and in the BBC, former WADA-president Dick Pound has stated his opinion that Sharapova’s failed drug test was ‘reckless beyond description.’

I must say I take issue with this and empathize with Ms. Sharapova, who stated that she received in December the WADA email noting that meldonium was now on the banned substance list, but “…I did not look at that list.”  Meldonium was a PED legal until 2016, when it was placed on the ‘banned substances list.’ As a professional inundated with emails, alerts, pronouncements, and more, I confess to a certain degree of information overload even when it comes even to items vital to my licensure and ability to practice.  Have I ever received an email from the Medical Board that I have deleted?  Have I ever received notification from my hospital staff office of some new change in policy which I glossed over?  Yes and yes.

Regarding the WADA emails, other athletes in the NY Times article have offered this opinion: “Some dismissed the messages as irrelevant to their own regimens or too complicated to be useful.”  That certainly resonates with me and my professional world.

I am not writing this to absolve Ms. Sharapova, and I applaud her for her prompt and open admission of personal responsibility. That stance is right and proper.  But I would hardly deem her action “reckless beyond description.”

In CJSM we have published over the years several studies on banned substances. One of the pieces of original research just published in our March CJSM sheds some further light on this issue, I think: Dietary Supplements: Knowledge and Adverse Event Reporting Among American Medical Society for Sports Medicine Physicians.  Read more of this post

Team Physicians: On your mark, get set….go!

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The sidelines–where so many of us like to be.

It’s still full-on summer in North America. The temps can exceed 40 C (104 F) in some parts, and the geese haven’t flown anywhere…..but fall is in the air, as team sports are in the midst of two-a-days and the hitting has begun! My clinics have shown an uptick in patient numbers, as the injured are trickling in. I have yet to stand on a sideline, but will do so in two weeks. It’s a good time to review the Team Physician Consensus Statement (see below) published a couple of years ago.

From the challenges of making real-time, sideline decisions regarding our athletes to the development of emergency action plans, those of us in clinical sports medicine will find a lot to help us in this statement.  In CJSM we have published over the years several manuscripts of great importance to the team doc.  We have explored whether return to play decisions are the responsibility ultimately of the team physician to variation in physician practice in those return to play decisions to more.  On this blog, we’ve covered the spectrum with interviews of team physicians from the Ohio State Buckeyes (Jim Borchers) to the Michigan Wolverines (Bruce Miller)…….

The health and welfare of our athletes is our primary obligation; in keeping our eye on this ‘ball’ there are several others we need to juggle–the needs of the team, the decisions of coaches and managers, the desires of parents if we are taking care of youth athletes……As our seasons progress, be sure to follow us here on the blog and on twitter @cjsmonline. And stay tuned to cjsportmed.com for studies released ahead of print, our ever-growing body of podcasts. We will try to help you navigate this juggling act.  All the best!

Clinical Journal of Sport Medicine Blog

Earlier this week, several sports medicine organizations released a statement with which all sports medicine clinicians should familiarize themselves:  the “Team Physician Consensus Statement:  2013 Update.”

The Statement represents, in its own words, “…an ongoing project-based alliance” of the major professional associations associated with sports medicine  in the United States.  These include the American Academy of FamilyPhysicians (AAFP), the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgons (AAOS), the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM), the American Orthopaedic Society for Sports Medicine (AOSSM), the American Osteopathic Academy of Sports Medicine (AOASM), and this journal’s affiliated professional group, the American Medical Society for Sports Medicine (AMSSM).

This is an update of a statement first published in 2000.  It includes sections which define the role of ‘team physician’;  describe the requisite education and qualifications; enumerate the medical and adminstrative duties and responsibilities; and explore the relevant ethical and medicolegal issues.

The entire statement is worth a read, but I find…

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Beantown & the MomsTeam Summit

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With the illustrious Brooke de Lench, Executive Director of MomsTeam. Friend and fellow traveller in the quest to make youth sports safer.

I’m flying to Boston today, and it feels like going home.

As I’ve shared with readers of this blog, I spent many of my formative years of education and medical training in ‘Beantown.’  I’ve experienced both sports (university track and cross-country) and sports medicine (fellowship training, coverage of the Boston marathon, and more) in ‘the Hub.’

This morning I head to Boston in advance of attending and speaking at a very special gathering taking place on Monday:  a ‘Youth Sports Summit’ taking place at Harvard Medical School.  The summit will focus on evidence-based best practices to address almost every facet of #YouthSportsSafety:  concussion prevention, sound nutrition, screening for sudden cardiac death, prevention of sexual abuse, to name a few topics.  I am one of several speakers and I’ll be speaking on injury prevention in youth athletes.

The host for the “Smart Teams Play Safe” summit is MomsTEAM  an especially influential organization addressing #YouthSportsSafety concerns. I serve on the Board of Advisors for the non-profit MomsTEAM Institute.  The Board is full of authors who have published in CJSM:  Tracey Covassin, Neeru Jayanthi, Dawn Comstock, Johnana Register-Mihalik……it’s a veritable ‘Who’s Who’ of sports medicine.  Most of the Board will be in attendance, and many will be speaking.

As I prepare for my talk, I find myself so frequently turning to the pages of CJSM to find the evidence for best practices in this area.  I will be relying heavily on studies ranging from the AMSSM position statement on youth overuse injuries, published in January 2014; to the CASEM position statement on neuromuscular training for ACL injury prevention; to some of the compelling research regarding the benefits of postponing body checking in youth hockey.

I’ll be blogging and tweeting from Boston, so look to these pages and to our twitter feed for updates on the proceedings.

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Spoiler Alert (will be mentioning this in my talk):  if there is any group that is going to begin solving the epidemic of youth sports injuries, it is a determined group of mothers like those involved in MomsTeam.  From the Playground Movement of the late 19th century, to the push by MADD to address the public health crisis of drunk driving, motivated mothers have made major impacts on societal health.  I have no doubt that in the arena of #YouthSportsSafety, the same will hold true.

Gender Issues in Sport

I was taken by an editorial that I read in the New York Times this weekend:  The Trouble With Too Much T.  If you didn’t have the chance to see it yourself already, by all means click on the link and read this piece.

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Caster Semenya, South African Olympian

The authors, Katrina Karkazis and Rebecca Jordan-Young, give a broad overview of how current sports governing bodies determine if an athlete is ‘really’ female.  Of note, Karkazis and Jordan-Young are also the principal authors of  The American Journal of Bioethics critique of the current gender-testing policies of the IOC, IAAF and other governing  bodies.

They lead with the well-known story of Caster Semenya, the South African woman who, in 2009, was barred from international competition and was compelled to undergo testing after the Berlin World Championships (she has subsequently been reinstated, and in the 2012 London Olympics was the flag-bearer for the S. African team and earned a silver medal in the 800m).  After the uproar that ensued over the Semanya case, the previously mentioned sports governing bodies instituted new gender-testing policies and interventions to redress the ‘problem.’

The new policies, as described in the editorial, are arguably no improvement and, it seems, a step in the wrong direction.

In the editorial, the authors tell the story of four female athletes with endogenously high levels of testosterone (‘T’) who all went through a battery of tests: physical examination (including genital inspections), blood tests, MRI, and psychosexual histories.  They then underwent surgery:  gonadectomy and (inexplicably) clitoral surgery.  They were required to do this to lower their levels of T, and they all subsequently were allowed to return to competition.

The essence of the current gender policies is 1) an identification of abnormally high levels of endogenous T; 2) a ‘therapeutic proposal’ which would be offered to athletes who test ‘too high’ and which include medications and/or surgery; 3) a disqualification from elite sport for women who elect not to have their T altered with said ‘therapeutic proposal.’

We’ve discussed some aspects of this issue in a previous blog post, our review of David Epstein’s sublime book ‘The Sports Gene.’ Epstein devotes an entire chapter (‘Why Men Have Nipples’) to female athleticism, and the powerful role that testosterone can often play in elite performance.  After reading this editorial, I thought it was time to write another post and poll the readership about aspects of this issue.

I can sympathize with the need to screen for use of exogenous testosterone, the systemic abuse of which led to most of the superior performances produced by East German athletes in the 1970’s.   Read more of this post

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