Coach Bill O'Brien rebuts magazine story on PSU's football medical staff

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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa.. -- Wednesday morning, Sports Illustrated released an article raising issues about the medical care of the Penn State football team. Wednesday afternoon, coach Bill O'Brien fought those allegations in public.

The issue of who is right is something fans, players, prospective recruits, etc., will have to decide on their own, but O'Brien made sure he made his points with a remarkable level of volume and anger.

"Their health and safety is the No. 1 priority to me," O'Brien said on a conference call with reporters. "It's not near the top, it's not around the top, it's at the top. For anyone to accuse me that I would do otherwise is irresponsible, reckless and wrong. And you may believe I'm only addressing the media for that comment. You're wrong. I mean for Penn State, anyone in the media, anyone. I'm including anyone here. For anyone to say such a thing is preposterous."

The article, by David Epstein, focused on the January removal of longtime employee Wayne Sebastianelli as the football team's physician and orthopedic surgeon and replacement with State College-based Peter Seidenberg, who is the team's current physician, and Hershey-based orthopedic surgeon Scott Lynch. Multiple named and unnamed sources suggested that the level of care had declined as a result and attributed the personnel change as politically motivated by athletic director Dave Joyner.

The article cited a schedule presented to Sports Illustrated by Penn State detailing that Lynch, the orthopedic surgeon, would be present at only one practice per week. Sebastianelli had attended every practice.

"Scott Lynch is a wonderful doctor, but he's based in Hershey and has a full-time practice there," said Vincent Pelligrini, a former chair of Penn State's orthopedics department, to Sports Illustrated. "I can't imagine Bill O'Brien will be happy with the coverage he'll get with a person running back and forth."

Said Sebastianelli, still employed by Penn State as director of athletic medicine, to Sports Illustrated: "It's a decision that I don't agree with, but it's something I have to work with."

Pelligrini helped lead the national search when Sebastianelli was hired in 1992 and told Sports Illustrated that Joyner openly requested the job.

"As objective as I can be, Joyner didn't have the credentials to be the team doctor full time," Pelligrini said. "He hadn't done a sports-medicine fellowship ... He was not excited about having a full-time faculty member in State College take care of the teams, but it was done to elevate the care of the athletes. Over the ensuing decade, Penn State had a model program for sports medicine."

The article quotes unnamed Board of Trustee sources as saying that Joyner's rationale for removing Sebastianelli and replacing him with Seidenberg and Lynch was "cost-savings."

Tuesday night and Wednesday, Penn State released a flurry of statements from the university in general, from Joyner and Harold Paz, current dean of Penn State's College of Medicine. Essentially, Penn State's stance was that Sports Illustrated had distorted facts and that there hadn't been a change in its model of care for athletes.

The statements weren't nearly as animated or fun as the 30 minutes of intensity O'Brien provided. . His major issues with the article were it didn't use any information provided by Paz from interviews, didn't use much of a lengthy interview he had with the author and didn't use a "medical synopsis" outlining the team's program that Penn State provided.

Summing up, O'Brien said, "What that article was to me was a character assassination on Dave Joyner. That's what it was, and it wasn't anything other than that. The care for our players is superb."

The article also suggested that Penn State had switched to an athletic trainer-driven medical model, focusing on trainer Tim Bream. With information from current and former players and members of the medical staff, the article contains anecdotes about Bream acting beyond his level of expertise given his lack of medical degree.

The article noted Penn State hired a lawyer to look into the allegations against Bream earlier this year. In a statement published in the SI story and sent to other media outlets, Penn State said the legal team's report concluded no credible evidence to support the allegations.

Several Penn State players spoke positively about Bream on Twitter. Linebacker Glenn Carson said, "Tim bream is a professional and has never done anything outside his limitations. He is the BEST. And is a crucial part of our family."

O'Brien was asked about the possibility of people trying to undermine his program. He said he didn't think about it. Asked specifically about comments trustee Anthony Lubrano made to PennLive.com criticizing the switch to an NFL-modeled system of medical care, O'Brien said, "I don't know where anyone can just say a quote about something that they know nothing about.."

By the end, O'Brien had calmed and slowed down enough to make a joke: "I got my son's little league game in 15 minutes. So, if I'm late to that, I might be divorced."

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Mark Dent: mdent@post-gazette.com, 412-439-3791 and Twitter @mdent05.


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