“Tim Tebow” dilemma: To play or not to play

“Tim Tebow” dilemma: To play or not to play

Before LSU played Florida in Baton Rouge on October 10, 2009 the news media focused on the issue of who will play quarterback for Florida in a game which could have a major impact on the college national championship. Before the game Florida Coach Urban Meyer was quoted as saying that Tebow “was cleared to return to football practice in a limited controlled environment.” The issue of who would play quarterback for the University of Florida in that game is related to starting quarterback Tim Tebow’s concussion injury sustained two weeks before on September 26, 2009 against Kentucky.

We all know now that Tim Tebow played against LSU on October 10, 2009. But Tebow’s decision allows me to address the bigger issue that faces all athletes that return to play following an injury. “When is it safe to return to activity following injury?” There is usually never a black and white answer. The decision should be made by the adult player or parents after a risk assessment by the specialist treating

the injury. The risk assessment must take into account the best-case and worse-case scenarios. Unfortunately, the mere act of playing football under ideal healthy conditions does carry significant risk. Sports, in particularly football, at the high school, college and professional level carries high risk for permanent lifelong functional impairment related to injury. The question must be asked, “Does the benefit of playing football outweigh the risk?” As an athlete and the parent of athletes, I personally feel that the benefits of organized sports, including football, outweigh the risk for most healthy people. All who play football must understand the potential risk of death, paralysis and other catastrophic injuries which, although rare, do occur in football and other activities of living. Tim Tebow and his parents are intelligent people who had chosen football as a major part of his life. He is a true role model for young athletes both on and off the field. Few people would argue the benefits that Tebow, playing football, has achieved over his career.

Risk/Benefit Assessment

The risk of a healthy Tebow playing football is quite different from the risk status of Tim Tebow on October 10, 2009 following a severe concussion on September 26, 2009.Unfortunately, because Tim Tebow sustained a severe concussion on September 26, he was not a healthy Tim Tebow against LSU and won’t be in the near future. He felt OK, wanted to play and did play on October 10, 2009 in the LSU game. But recent medical studies show that he was at significant increased risk for permanent brain injury if he had sustained additional head trauma playing against LSU or in games in the near future. Tim Tebow should not have played in the LSU game, or in future games, until testing performed by a neurologist or neurosurgeon determined that Tim Tebow returned to a healthy risk status. The risk of a healthy Tebow playing football is relatively low and acceptable to most people. Tebow’s risk status following a severe concussion on September 26, 2009 in my opinion is high and unacceptable because of the risk of long-term brain damage that may not be detected until later in life.

Please note I am not the treating physician of Tim Tebow. I do not know the facts in his specific case. Do not believe everything you read in a newspaper or watch on television.Tim Tebow chose to play against LSU and as a role model for young athletes, I think he made a wrong decision. To be able to play at the next level, you must make mature decisions to keep your body healthy. Although frustrating, it often takes a lot of time for the body to heal. I say to all players, coaches, parents, and weekend warriors, please give Mother Nature the time to heal. You lower your risk significantly. Enjoy today, so that hopefully you can enjoy tomorrow.

Luis M. Espinoza MD Dr. Espinoza served as the AAA Team Doctor for the the New Orleans Zephyrs/BabyCakes since joining the Orthopedic Center for Sports Medicine in 2003. He is double board certified in General Orthopedic Surgery and Sports Medicine.

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