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Editorial: Orthopedists Should Hand in Their Football Sideline Passes

Citing brain-injury risk, journal says orthopedic surgeons should not support football.

Published: September 13, 2017

TEAM PHYSICIAN Orthopedic surgeons are fixtures on the sidelines of collegiate and professional football games.

From pee-wees to the pros, orthopedic surgeons have a long history of supporting football — performing preseason physicals on scholastic football players and covering collegiate and pro games from the sidelines. But the editors of an orthopedics journal are calling for orthopedists to relinquish their sideline passes and distance themselves from the "harmful sport" of football rather than supporting a game that carries a known risk of brain injury.

Citing a JAMA report that found that the overwhelming majority of high-level football players had both clinical and pathological evidence of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) — which is associated with memory loss and dementia — doctors writing in Clinical Orthopaedics and Related Research "now encourage orthopaedic surgeons to ask themselves whether supporting American football at all is consistent with our best professional norms."

"Typically, physicians do not support the continued exposure of patients to known, severe, avoidable harms," write the authors of Do Orthopaedic Surgeons Belong on the Sidelines at American Football Games? In an earlier editorial, they suggested that orthopaedic surgeons should recommend that children and young adults not play tackle football based on ample documentation of neurocognitive impairment caused by concussions among youth players.

At least one orthopedic surgeon disagrees. Writing on his Facebook page, Gil Ortega, MD, the chief of orthopaedic surgery at Honor Health Scottsdale (Ariz.) Osborn Trauma Center, says, "As an orthopedist, football coach and father, I say yes to having us on the sidelines."

Dan O'Connor

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