Penn State defends medical changes after report
STATE COLLEGE, Pa. (AP) — Penn State coach Bill O’Brien is fervently disputing suggestions raised in a report that player medical care has been compromised after the team doctor was replaced.
Speaking often in an angry tone that might be otherwise reserved for an argument with an official, O’Brien told reporters in a conference call that the health and safety of his players were his top priorities.
The athletic department has been responding to a story in the latest edition of Sports Illustrated that questioned the quality of care and the motivations behind the removal of longtime team doctor Wayne Sebastianelli earlier this year.
“For anyone to suggest — or perhaps outright accuse — that anyone within the Penn State athletic program would do otherwise is irresponsible, reckless and wrong,” an emotional O’Brien said Wednesday.
The second-year coach said he made recommendations in the offseason to athletic director Dave Joyner and university president Rodney Erickson after watching the medical team for his first year.
It was part of his job to evaluate all aspects of the program. O’Brien’s superiors make the personnel decisions.
O’Brien said there was no problem with the medical care at Penn State last year, nor in the rest of Sebastianelli’s 20-year tenure at football.
“Again, what I try to do is assemble the right team ... the way I see the program should be run,” O’Brien said. Responding to another question later in the roughly 15-minute conference call, O’Brien said he urges the doctors to be “cutting edge ... looking for things that could help our players.”
Sebastianelli remains the director of athletic medicine. In that capacity, he oversees the medical program for football, including new team doctor Peter Seidenberg.
Penn State in February released a statement about the changes, which also included adding Scott Lynch as an orthopedic consultant for football. All three doctors work for Penn State’s college of medicine.
“To characterize the medical care Penn State provides our student-athletes as anything other than the highest quality is erroneous,” the athletic department said in a statement. “Access to urgent and quality care for our athletes is no less than where it was at any point in the past 20 years.”
The school later released a comparison to procedures at six other schools including Ohio State and LSU, showing similar medical guidelines.
The Sports Illustrated story said the change at Penn State can be traced to a tweaked title in January for Joyner, who had been serving in an “acting” capacity since November 2011.
Joyner replaced Tim Curley, who was placed on administrative leave after being charged with perjury and failure to report suspected abuse in connection with the child sex abuse scandal involving retired defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky. Curley has vehemently proclaimed his innocence.
Some alumni and former players remain angry that Joyner, who is also a doctor, became athletic director after leaving his position as a university trustee. Critics cite a conflict of interest as well a lack of experience in athletic administration.
Trustees overall have been under scrutiny in the wake of the scandal, especially those like Joyner who were on the board when the late Hall of Fame coach Joe Paterno was fired days after Sandusky’s arrest in November 2011.
The Sports Illustrated report described Joyner as having a “contentious history” with Sebastianelli.
Sebastianelli declined comment when reached Wednesday by The Associated Press and referred questions to an athletic department spokesman.
An orthopedic professor and former dean of the school’s college of medicine was quoted by SI as saying the change was at odds with Penn State’s focus on transparency, and that it was another example of a decision driven by athletics. A former chair of the school’s orthopedics department, now at the Medical School of South Carolina, said the change amounted to less quality care in exchange for saving money.
The Associated Press could not immediately reach those doctors.
O’Brien later described the SI story as a “character assassination of Dave Joyner. It wasn’t anything more than that,” he said in the conference call. “The care of our players (medically) is superb.”
Sebastianelli’s departure as team doctor did draw attention among some Penn State insiders and hardcore fans after it was announced in February.
O’Brien in March told reporters before an awards ceremony in Atlantic City that the change “was more about the reorganization of the medical team” and praised Sebastianelli, according to a Philadelphia Inquirer report.
The SI report also called into question the methods of head trainer Tim Bream, a 1983 Penn State graduate who took the job at his alma mater after serving as trainer for the NFL’s Chicago Bears. Bream’s experience includes serving on the U.S. Olympic Committee staff for the 1992 Winter Games in Albertville, France, when Joyner was the U.S. head team physician.
The SI report, citing anonymous sources, questioned methods and treatments by Bream that were not performed by his predecessor. The report referred to Bream’s treatment of an injury to former walk-on receiver Garrett Lerner, who has since left the team.
Lerner could not immediately be reached Wednesday by The Associated Press. He told Pennlive.com on Wednesday that “from my point of view I don’t think (Bream) could’ve done a much better job ... Tim was there pretty much all the time for me and he never neglected to take care of me.”
Penn State said in its statement that “questions and rumors” about Bream were investigated by an outside law firm in January. The firm, Duane Morris, is also representing the university in criminal proceedings connected to the Sandusky scandal.
“The legal team’s report concluded there was no credible or substantial evidence to support the allegations or rumors, and there was no wrongdoing or violation of any professional standards,” Penn State’s statement said.
Current players also took to Twitter on Wednesday to defend Bream, including senior offensive lineman and team leader John Urschel. He wrote that Bream “is the best at what he does and an essential part of this team.”
Online: Full Penn State statement: