The discussion over the San Diego Chargers’ physician continues.
During the NFLPA’s Super Bowl week announcement that 78 percent of players polled distrust team doctors, the union called for the removal of San Diego Chargers physician Dr. David Chao. On Saturday, UT-San Diego reported that Chao has been cleared of charges from the union. The report said the Joint Committee of Player Safety and Welfare cleared Chao. Chargers players even came out in support of Chao.
That support doesn’t come from NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith, who said Monday he still wants Chao removed, according to USA Today. He pointed to three malpractice cases against Chao in his private practice.
“The concerns we have about Dr. Chao remain,” NFL Players Association executive director DeMaurice Smith told USA TODAY Sports in a statement Monday. “The fact is that despite having previous malpractice liability (awards) against him, neither the Chargers nor the NFL initiated an inquiry or provided any oversight of the doctor the team selected to provide care for our players.”
NFL spokesman Greg Aiello said Monday that the review of Chao remains confidential.
The bigger issue at hand may be that teams are choosing doctors without the input of the players’ union.
In the meantime, the old way of doing business continues with the league keeping its distance from team doctor issues. Even a persistent pattern of malpractice accusations doesn’t matter as long as team management is comfortable with the team doctor.
“Honestly there’s no reason why (team management) should care,” said Andrew Blecher, a California doctor who specializes in sports medicine. “They want a team doctor who is going to do what they want. If the comfort level works with them, they don’t want some new guy coming in who’s going to change everything around.”
In the Chargers case, Chao helped his cause by managing to keep his legal troubles confined to his private practice. Many current and former players have vouched for him, and none has sued him since 2002, when quarterback Ryan Leaf filed a malpractice suit against Chao saying wrist and shoulder injuries were not properly treated. Chao denied the allegations, and Leaf dropped the case.
One former team doctor said the process to choose team physicians is flawed because they often come from medical groups that have corporate deals with the team.
“The selection process is flawed,” said Rob Huizenga, a former Los Angeles Raiders team doctor who wrote a book about the pressure put on NFL players to play despite the risk of serious injury. The book is titled “You’re Okay, It’s Just a Bruise.”
“Most jobs try to hire the best person, but the NFL teams don’t do that necessarily,” Huizenga told USA TODAY Sports. “They’re going to hire the person (from a medical group that) is going to pay them the most amount of money. It’s a flawed doctor selection process.”
As for Chao, USA Today reported he may be a pawn in a bigger fight because many of the Chargers players like and trust him, even the late Junior Seau, who took his life last year.
“David loved Junior with all his heart and soul,” former Charger Mark Walczak said. “He had done a number of surgeries on Junior. I’m sure he always had Junior’s best interests at heart.”
– Bill Bradley, contributing editor