STATE COLLEGE, Penn. — Penn State’s athletic department is vigorously defending itself against a report questioning the quality of medical care for football players.
In a story in the latest edition of Sports Illustrated, two professors of orthopedics, one still at the university and the other a former chair, attributed the removal of longtime team doctor Wayne Sebastianelli to reasons other than the quality of care.
The report also called into question the methods of head trainer Tim Bream, a 1983 Penn State graduate who took the job at his alma mater after serving as trainer for the NFL’s Chicago Bears.
“To characterize the medical care Penn State provides our student-athletes as anything other than the highest quality is erroneous,” the athletic department 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.”
Sebastianelli remains the director of athletic medicine. In that capacity, he oversees the medical program for football, including new team doctor Peter Seidenberg.
Penn State in February released a statement about the changes, which also included adding Scott Lynch as an orthopedic consultant for football. All three doctors work for Penn State’s college of medicine.
The Sports Illustrated story said the change can be traced to a tweaked title in January for athletic director Dave Joyner, who had been serving in an “acting” capacity since November 2011.
Joyner replaced Tim Curley, who was placed on administrative leave after being charged with perjury and failure to report suspected abuse in connection with the child sex abuse scandal involving retired defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky. Curley has vehemently proclaimed his innocence.
Some alumni and former players remain angry that Joyner, who is also a doctor, became athletic director after leaving his position as a university trustee. Critics cite a conflict of interest as well as a lack of experience in athletic administration.
Trustees overall have been under scrutiny in the wake of the scandal.
The Sports Illustrated report described Joyner as having a “contentious history” with Sebastianelli, the team doctor since 1992.
Sebastianelli declined comment when reached Wednesday by The Associated Press and referred questions to an athletic department spokesman.
An orthopedic professor and former dean of the school’s college of medicine was quoted by SI as saying the change was at odds with Penn State’s focus on transparency, and that it was another example of a decision driven by athletics. A former chair of the school’s orthopedics department, now at the Medical School of South Carolina, said the change amounted to less quality care in exchange for saving money.
The Associated Press could not immediately reach those doctors.
Coach Bill O’Brien in March told reporters before an awards ceremony in Atlantic City that the change “was more about the reorganization of the medical team” and praised Sebastianelli, according to a Philadelphia Inquirer report. O’Brien took over in January 2012.
“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,” O’Brien said in Penn State’s lengthy response to the SI story. “Nothing about our level or quality of athlete care has changed.”
The SI report, citing anonymous sources, also called into question some methods and treatments by Bream that were not performed by his predecessor. The report referred to Bream’s treatment of an injury to a former walk-on receiver who has since left the team.
The former player could not immediately be reached Wednesday by The Associated Press, but a posting from a Twitter account with the player’s name praised Bream.
Bream’s experience includes serving on the U.S. Olympic Committee staff for the 1992 Winter Games in Albertville, France, when Joyner was the U.S. head team physician.
Penn State said in its statement that “questions and rumors” about Bream were investigated by an outside law firm in January. The firm, Duane Morris, is also representing the university in criminal proceedings connected to the Sandusky scandal.
“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,” Penn State’s statement said.
Current players also took to Twitter on Wednesday to defend Bream, including senior offensive lineman and team leader John Urschel. He wrote that Bream “is the best at what he does and an essential part of this team.”