In the ongoing concussion controversy in sports, we tend to forget that there are physicians in place who are supposedly there to help these athletes. Or are they? The pressure of working for a professional sports team is huge. Owners, coaches and players are all after the doctors to change their minds or coax them into letting them play or getting them meds. It’s funny, but I think Oliver Stone did a great job representing this in his movie Any Given Sunday. James Woods played the doctor for the football team, Dr. Harvey Mandrake, and was a total lowlife:
“I’m going to consult with a player? What are you talking about? I know his answer! They couldn’t take a piss in the morning, without the pills. You want to play innocent? Fuck your innocence! You don’t want to hear the answer, don’t ask the question. I didn’t have to ask him, because I knew the answer. These men are football players, they are gladiators. They will not live with shame, like you. And long ago, they made that choice.”
How close is that to reality? According to the NY Times, “in his final three seasons playing in the National Hockey League, before dying last year at 28 of an accidental overdose of narcotic painkillers and alcohol, Derek Boogaard received more than 100 prescriptions for thousands of pills from more than a dozen team doctors for the Wild and the Rangers”. Wow. Thousands of pills. Oliver Stone was on the money. He even brought in the character of the new young doctor, played by Matt Modine. This guys had morals and discovered Dr. Harvey Mandrake was covering for players who were suffering from near-career-ending injuries but were overdosing on painkillers, steroids and hormones to cover the pain. In the end, Modine’s character, though conflicted, falls into the same trap.
The only difference is that Any Given Sunday was a movie. This is real life. Team doctors need to say no. They need to have a unified voice. They need to push to end fighting in hockey. They need to push for better equipment and better tackling techniques. They need to stop covering for the owners, coaches and players and do their job. And risk losing their own job because of it.