On the surface, this is not a surprising a story. A former Texas A&M athletic trainer admitted clearing his team’s best football players to go back into games, despite the fact that they were injured and at risk to aggravate their injuries. It happens all the time, with football players telling their coaches “I’m fine!” in an effort to get back on the field as soon as possible.
Go beneath the surface, though, and things get disturbing. In a conversation on HBO’s Real Sports With Bryant Gumbel, Karl Kapchinski, who worked for A&M for 31 years, said he was routinely pressured by the coaching staff to clear certain players—and by certain we mean “good”—regardless of whether they were physically ready to play. He also alleges that trainers were fired if they refused to cave to the pressure. Here’s a partial transcript of Kapchinski’s conversation with HBO’s Jon Frankel:
JON FRANKEL: Did you ever feel pressured to return a player to the field before you thought he was ready?
KARL KAPCHINSKI: I would say yes.
KARL KAPCHINSKI: While we’re considered part of the medical staff in a lot of cases, the head coach just sees you basically, in some cases, being subservient to his situation.
JON FRANKEL: Did you ever have a coach say to you, “I need this kid back”?
KARL KAPCHINSKI: Yes. They would always, you know, tend to put pressure on you to get good players back.
JON FRANKEL: Is there anybody you put back into a game and you said, “Mm, I wish I hadn’t done that”?
KARL KAPCHINSKI: Yes.
JON FRANKEL: Because it went against your better judgment, or because it resulted in the player limping off the field two plays later?
KARL KAPCHINSKI: Because it resulted in the player having a subsequent injury.
JON FRANKEL: If you said to a coach, “Coach, I know we said it was gonna be four weeks, but we need an extra week.” What would the coach say to you?”
KARL KAPCHINSKI: You would be challenged on your character, your credentials. You know, maybe you were the wrong guy for the job.
KARL KAPCHINSKI: There’s been a lotta great quality athletic trainers that have subsequently lost their jobs because they stood up for the players or were doing the right thing.
Most frightening is Kapchinski admitting that a player suffered a subsequent injury after going back onto the field before he was ready. Not treating an injury properly can cause long-term damage to a player, regardless of his skill level—and it’s just not worth the risk.