Posted by: mdegeorge | January 28, 2011

Weekly Diagnosis: January 28

In a week dominated by one particular doping story that everyone seemed to be paying attention to, the sports medical front was buzzing plenty on a variety of topics. I’ll take you though a pair of comeback stories, a get-out story, and the notion that there really might be something in the water out in Iowa.

Iowa’s rhabdo bout

Iowa Hawkeye football players haven’t dropped this fast since, well since before their bowl game about a month ago. But this time, they actually had a non-marijuana related reason to: rhabdomyolysis.

You remember, that muscular disease that everyone misdiagnosed as goldbrickitis in Albert Haynesworth when he failed 18 conditioning tests this summer? Anyway, it’s a very real thing that landed 13 Hawkeyes in the hospital Monday with a range of symptoms that included severe abdominal pain, general muscle weakness, and diminished kidney function. The cause of the outbreak was likely extreme overexertion during offseason workouts, as reported by several of the players on their Facebook pages. As of Friday, only five of the 13 had been discharged, though reports throughout the week have placed the group’s condition as “safe and stable”.

The workouts and their subsequent ramifications have drawn the ire of parents and have the university backpedaling faster than Bruce Bowen defending a fast break. Associate athletic director Fred Mims had this to say Wednesday:

“The doctors and the administration will come forward with an explanation of what did happen, how it happened and what we can do to ensure it doesn’t happen again. We have an excellent medical staff and training staff who will do due diligence to look at what did transpire and make sure we can avoid this in the future. I’m quite sure they’ll have safeguards in place to make sure people aren’t harmed.”

Meanwhile, head coach Kirk Ferentz remained publicly mum on the subject until Friday (drawing the scathing criticism of ESPN’s Pat Forde in the process), when he graced the media with the admission that he was in constant contact with the hospitalized players and that:

“As the parent of both a current and former member of the team, the health and well-being of each student-athlete in our football program is paramount. I will work with all of the individuals and groups that contribute to the welfare of our student-athletes to understand what led to this occurrence in order to make certain it does not happen again.”

A few questions do come to mind. Why are the players undertaking such a heavy training regimen with the coach on a recruiting trip and the team physician in Costa Rica? What recruiting visit is so important that at no point can you come back to visit 10 percent of your team hospitalized for a week thanks to your workout schedule? And why is your team doctor in Costa Rica? (To quote Seinfeld, “What kind of snow blower did you get us mixed up with?!?!)

If Iowa’s lucky, the only repercussions of their January boot camp will be a slap on the wrist by the NCAA akin to what Michigan got a year ago. They’d better hope the relationship between Ferentz and players and/or recruits isn’t permanently damaged (as Forde thinks). I hope the school cleans up the act before we have another Korey Stringer.

In cycling news you probably didn’t know existed

The eyes of the cycling world were tuned to Alberto Contador’s fate this week. But flying under the radar was the announcement that Garmin-Cervelo-Slipstream-Chipotle-Transitions-YaddaYadda fired coach Matt White for referring a rider to a to dubious Spanish doctor Luis del Moral.

White said he sent the rider, the oft-injured Trent Lowe, on one occasion in the fall of 2009 for a battery of tests to Moral’s private lab in Spain mainly because of its proximity to Lowe’s home in Valencia. The referral was a violation of the team’s internal doping control policy, which has won plaudits the world over for its commitment to clean cycling over the last half decade that has also generated significant results on the road.

Moral, who has never been conclusively linked to doping, has been under suspicion since he was video taped by a French television crew during the 2000 Tour de France disposing of a large amount of doping paraphernalia, including syringes and IV bags. Moral was the director of Lance Armstrong’s United States Postal Service team’s medical staff from 1999 to 2003, during which both White and Garmin general manager and Slipstream CEO  Jonathan Vaughters were riders.

The entire affair was conducted, at least publicly, as civilly as you can imagine. Vaughters announced the firing with great reluctance, acknowledging that he basically had no choice in the decision while also accepting that nothing “nefarious went on there”. White was also accepting of his fate, allowing that, “I understand that the rules are the rules. I am sorry for my mistake and I am ready to move on. There is so much opportunity for cycling overseas and here in Australia, that the decision really will be best for both of me and for the team. The lads know I wish them all the best for 2011.”

As always, I remain impressed by Garmin’s extreme commitment to drug-free racing, which really is bearing fruit in the lab and in the win column. But it also includes these kinds of tough decisions. To be clear, White wasn’t fired for helping a rider dope or possessing doping materials. He was fired for referring a rider, who hadn’t in the past of hasn’t subsequently engaged in any illegal activities, for a doctor who wasn’t part of the team’s program. It’s a decision I wouldn’t have to make if I was Vaughters, especially since White is an up-and-coming talent as a team director.

An extra wrench was added to the already suspicious works Thursday when one of Lowe’s representatives denied an earlier report that the cyclist demanded €500,000 or he would go public with the details of the visit. It makes the timing of the story–the visit was allegedly in the fall of 2009 and only came to light after Lowe was informed last month that he wouldn’t be compensated for December and his services wouldn’t be retained–more plausible. Looks like Vaughters reluctance could have also come from Lowe putting the proverbial gun to his head.

A couple of comeback tales

With all the firings and cancellations, it’s time to end the week on a high note with this uplifting story from the AP about a pair of Senior Bowl survivors in Mark Herzlich and Nate Irving.

Irving, a linebacker from North Carolina State, overcame a serious car accident in 2009 that let him with a collapsed lung and a compound fracture in his leg. Herzlich, a graduate of Conestoga High School and a linebacker at Boston College, overcame a bout of Ewing’s sacroma, a rare form of bone cancer that caused him to miss the 2009 season.

Both are back on track to a career in the NFL and are likely to get drafted at some point. It seems ironic that two players that have taken so much punishment away from the field play a position like middle linebacker, which doles out so much punishment on the field. I wish both players the best of luck in the game and in the Draft.

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  1. […] he conceived of a few months ago in late January – you know, right around when his university was embroiled in a scandal that included allegedly overworking players until 13 of them landed in a hospital with […]


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