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Sports Illustrated Slams Penn State Athletics’ Medical Program, PSU Responds

Penn State responded to a pending Sports Illustrated article last night that sent many Penn State beat writers into a frenzy.

The article written by David Epstein, who has covered Penn State before and not necessarily in a favorable light, reportedly slams Penn State’s medical program and administrative moves made over the past several months by Athletic Director David Joyner, who is an orthopedic surgeon himself. “Special Report: Do Athletics Still Have Too Much Power at Penn State?” is featured on the cover of this week’s Sports Illustrated, seemingly unrelated to the actual article but a headline that is sure to grab some attention at the news stand. It is due out Wednesday on the web.

In a move that has been uncharacteristic of Penn State in recent history, the athletic department got out in front of the story Tuesday night before it was even released to the public.

“To characterize the medical care Penn State provides our student-athletes as anything other than the highest quality is erroneous,” associate athletic director for communications Jeff Nelson said in a statement. “Access to urgent and quality care for our athletes is no less than where it was at any point in the past 20 years. We provided Sports Illustrated with facts and data that demonstrate our commitment to our student athletes and how we compare to other peer institutions. Instead, the article sensationalizes in order to insinuate lower standards and largely ignores statements from the Dean of the College of Medicine. Contrary to the reporter’s assertions, Dr. Sebastianelli remains the doctor in charge of the University’s entire medical program for intercollegiate athletics, including football. Further, there has been no change in the support provided by State College-based Penn State orthopedic surgeons, including Dr. Sebastianelli.”

Head coach Bill O’Brien also released a preemptive statement on the article. O’Brien has been largely seen as responsible for many of the shifts in the athletic department personnel, at least until now.

“When I was hired as the Head Football Coach at Penn State, I was asked to observe areas of the football program and then make recommendations,” O’Brien said. “After observing our medical organization in the football program for a full year, I recommended that it would be in the best interests of our program, and most importantly our student-athletes, to make a change in the team physicians. Dr. Lynch and Dr. Seidenberg were identified as excellent doctors who could serve in this role. Dr.Seidenberg will attend our practices and Dr. Lynch will be here on game day. From a coverage standpoint, we have exactly the same level of medical care as we had previously. The same surgeons as last year are available to players who would need that level of attention. Nothing about our level or quality of athlete care has changed. These young men mean a great deal to me and our staff. They give their all to Penn State. I will always recommend what I feel is best for our student-athletes in every area of the football program.”

Athletic Director David Joyner called the Sports Illustrated accusations “baseless.”

“Care of our student-athletes is a top priority for Penn State, as it always has been,” Joyner said. “The present medical care model is very consistent with peer institutions in the Big Ten and elsewhere. The present system offers appropriate and exceptional medical care for our student-athletes. It’s terribly unfortunate some want to make baseless accusations. We refuse to engage in a such a conversation. The vast majority of Penn Staters want the focus to be on our dedicated student-athletes, as it should be.”

A person who received an advance copy of the article called it a “hit job” to’s Ben Jones.

“On Tuesday night, a source who received an advanced copy of the article told that the article will call into question Joyner’s athletic administrative experience. The source said unnamed Board of Trustees members are featured as well as a few named members of the Penn State community. Those board members left unnamed will be “easy to figure out,” according to the source, who also said that the article’s “one-sided nature” may be considered a “hit job” by some.”

Penn State athletics also released an interesting statement saying that that Penn State’s director of athletic training, Tim Bream, was investigated by an outside law firm.

“Questions and rumors about the head athletic trainer were investigated by an outside law firm in January. The trainer and supervisory physicians were interviewed. The legal team’s report concluded there was no credible or substantial evidence to support the allegations or rumors, and there was no wrongdoing or violation of any professional standards. The report also concluded that none of the physicians who supervise the head trainer had made or documented any contemporaneous complaints to anyone or discussed with the trainer any concerns about overstepping bounds of care.

Mr. Bream is a respected and dedicated professional who provides care to hundreds of our student-athletes.”

It’s unusual to see Penn State so far out in front of a story like this, and it’s easy to speculate what could be included in the story today. Early reports seem to indicate the Sports Illustrated looked into the medical care athletes received in 2012-2013 compared to previous years.

Long-time Penn State team physician Wayne Sabastianelli was reassigned from the team physician role to the head of athletic medicine. Peter Seidenberg filled Sabstianelli’s old position, and Dr. Scott Lynch currently serves as an orthopedic consultant. It is unclear what exactly Sports Illustrated will say about these men but it is likely that they will be mentioned in some way.

Epstein also responded to the initial fuss on Twitter.

Scranton Times-Tribune Penn State writer Donnie Collins got an advance copy of the article. Here are some highlights from his dozens of Tweets about it last night.

And here’s the main photo for the article:


We’ll have more as this story develops today.

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About the Author

Kevin Horne

Kevin Horne was the editor of Onward State from 2012-2014 and currently holds the position of Managing Editor Emeritus, which is a fake title he made up. He graduated from Penn State with degrees journalism and political science in 2014 and is currently seeking his J.D. at the Penn State Dickinson School of Law. A third generation Penn Stater from Williamsport, Pa., Kevin is also the president of the graduate student government. Email: [email protected]

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