Are college players' bodies being abused?

When a college football player suffers an injury in a game or in practice he is sent to the affiliated team doctor. If he wants a second opinion, he is on his own.

In my conversation with GMs and NFL team doctors, they unanimously agree that when they get college players most of them are already damaged goods. Now no one from the NFL will come out and say this publicly because they don’t want to disturb the free feeder system.

I know for a fact that the NFL is truly concerned about their liability in regards to past and current players’ concussion lawsuits, and are quietly frustrated that college football doesn’t share the responsibility and the potential fiscal damages that are lurking on the horizon.

One NFC GM I spoke to recently told me that there is definitely a consistency of injury patterns you can tie to a school. One storied program for example has a high degree of torn labrums and shoulder issues that he thinks comes from their weight room program. More specifically, their strength coach’s obsession with power cleans/snatches. Another program seems to have an unusual high number of knee and hamstring issues.

The problem is that there really are no checks and balances, or a union in place to protect college athletes. They simply have to do as they are told with no questions asked. If they dare question the system or the regimen they are then labeled as renegade or even selfish.

When an 18 to 19-year-old freshman, whose body is still growing and developing, starts a heavy lifting routine, sometimes they just aren’t ready to handle the trauma. Heavy lifting such as squats, power cleans and bench pressing thrown at them year round can cause long term damage if done in excess. These traditional football power lifts take a toll on the knees, hips, shoulders and back. A performance trainer with a well known pre-combine facility told me that 60% of the draftees they get are nursing a chronic issue usually associated with one of these three areas of the body. He said, “they are pretty beat up not just from their senior season but from four or five years of being beaten down in the weight room and on the practice field.

To the credit of some programs, more and more strength coaches are graduating to more functional type conditioning programs that don’t rely on heavy weight lifting techniques. However, there still needs to be a better model in place to help college football players prevent and manage injuries. I believe for starters that college football should adopt the NFL model for second opinion medical treatment.

Right now a second opinion system does not exist in college football and players are at the mercy of the team doctor or trainer. My clients have told me countless times that when they are injured it takes an act of God to get an MRI. MRI’s can be expensive and time consuming but can help tell the real story of an injury. And for those reasons college trainers are never quick to make it a precautionary routine to gauge an injury. College players should have the right to a second opinion, along with an MRI with no strings attached. The NCAA and or conferences should have one or two second opinion doctors available like the NFL does. NFL players have a right to a second opinion by the doctor of their choice which will be paid for by the team.

College players are programmed not to ask for anything and not to make waves. They are expected to trust the team doctor and not question his or her opinion. By doing so, they are not getting the level of medical care they deserve. As college football gets even richer they should use some of those funds to set up a second opinion system and even buy some MRI machines for their training rooms. Simultaneously, college players and their parents should not be afraid to ask for premium health care along with a second medical opinion when any injury occurs.

Follow me on Twitter: @Jackbechta

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