Sports Illustrated Investigates Penn State Medical Care, Joyner-Sebastianelli Relationship
**A few Onward State staff members received advanced copies of the much discussed Sports Illustrated article. Below is a summary of the piece. When the actual story is made available online, we will provide a link**
In a 23-page investigative story, Sports Illustrated senior writer David Epstein examined the history and current state of medical care as it applies to the Penn State football program.
Throughout the featured piece that is set to hit newsstands today and be released online tomorrow, Epstein is highly critical of Penn State athletic director David Joyner, mentioning a personal feud between Joyner and Wayne Sebastianelli, the long-time head physician for the Nittany Lions football team before being reassigned in late February.
The article, titled “What Still Ails Penn State” quotes several named and unnamed sources including former football players, athletic department employees, and Board of Trustees members.
Epstein goes as far back as 1992, when Penn State decided to hire Sebastianelli for a new role as director of athletic medicine and orthopedic surgeon head physician in an effort to improve on-site care and take doctors from private practices out of the equation.
The decision did not sit well with Joyner who was passed over for the position despite showing heavy interest according to Epstein and various sources mentioned in the article. Mac Evarts, a former dean of Penn State’s College of Medicine, told Epstein in the piece that “Joyner didn’t have the credentials to be the team doctor full time. He hadn’t done a sports medicine fellowship.”
Evarts proceeded to say that Joyner continued to try to obtain Sebastianelli’s position. Vincent Pellegrini, a former chair of Penn State’s Department of Orthopedics, corroborated Evarts remarks and described Joyner and Sebastianelli’s relationship as “very competitive” adding that the current athletic director wanted more involvement with athletic programs nearly two decades ago as a private practitioner even after losing out on the job.
This January, four days after the word “acting” was removed from Joyner’s title, Sebastianelli was ordered to clear out his Lasch Building office by day’s end.
One month later, on February 27th, it was reported that Peter Seidenberg slid into Sebastianelli’s role while Dr. Scott Lynch assumed the title of orthopedic consultant.
Sebastianelli kept his role as director of athletic medicine, but there was a lot of miscommunication and confusion as to how this process was handled. Several athletes were told that Sebastianelli either retired or resigned, and university officials prepared counterpoints should someone question if Joyner’s decision resulted from a personal grudge.
Sebastianelli, who was painted in a positive light throughout the piece, including anecdotes from former football players Michael Robinson and Adam Taliaferro, did not comment on his relationship with Joyner. He did tell SI that the reshuffling of the medical staff was a “decision that I don’t agree with, but it’s something that I have to work out.”
Joyner did not comment directly to SI but was one of a handful of university officials to release a statement last night criticizing Epstein’s piece.
Head coach Bill O’Brien did talk to SI, saying he made recommendations following the 2012 season to improve the football program including changes with the medical staff.
However, O’Brien’s statement that Lynch, who is based in Hershey, will be at football practice “just about everyday in the fall” contradicts a medical schedule that suggests Lynch will only be in State College on Wednesdays.
Joyner, not O’Brien, selected the specific doctors according to the article, which cites trustees as sources saying the change was made with a cost savings mindset following fallout from the Jerry Sandusky sex abuse scandal.
The bigger picture painted by SI is a switch from a physician based model to an athletic-training model, highlighted by Joyner’s hiring of Tim Bream to head up athletic training in February 2012.
Anonymous sources told SI that Bream overstepped boundaries including providing players with Voltaren, an anti-inflammatory drug without prescription or physician’s approval. Sources added that Bream gave an inhaler to a player who does not have asthma, provided the prescription drug Bentyl for diarrhea when it is intended for irritable bowel syndrome and used an X-ray machine without a medical license.
Attorney Michael Mustokoff looked into these allegations at Penn State’s request but found no wrongdoing outside of misunderstandings in Bream thinking he had a doctor’s approval.
A specific example used in the story is the case of former walk-on receiver Garrett Lerner. Lerner suffered two severe burns on his right leg stemming from Bream’s use of an electrical stimulation machine. As the pain worsened in the coming days, no physician was around to see Lerner, and the athletic training staff kept the burns covered.
Lerner said the trainers took good care of him but did not end up seeing an actual doctor for many days. Lerner left the team this past March due to an unrelated injury but was one of several players to offer vocal support for Bream on Twitter today.
The final paragraphs of the piece go back to Pellegrini, convinced that Joyner is caught up in a conflict of interest between his job duties as athletic director and a long-standing grudge stemming from his desire for private doctors including himself to work more directly with the team.
“My own opinion is that he’s not an honorable guy in this situation,” Pellegrini added.
The content of the piece does not match the “Do Athletics Still Have Too Much Power at Penn State?” tagline featured on the cover, but it certainly got a lot of people talking.
Stay with Onward State as the story develops from here.