Poor Treatment of Athletes at Indiana University

Injured Indiana Athletes Describe Isolation, Poor Treatment by Staff. P. Lavigne, ESPN.com: OTL, April 23, 2017

The above referenced article is in response to allegations made by several student-athletes from Indiana University. This was brought to light by the firing of Indiana University’s head football coach, Kevin Wilson, following a series of issues regarding the treatment of injured athletes.

One such maltreatment allegation included Katlin Beck, a rower on the 2013-2014 Indiana University Crew team.  She went to the medical director of Hoosier Athletics for low back pain. She was prescribed physical therapy, conditioning modifications, and hydrocodone. She was compliant with all medical direction except the hydrocodone, which she refused to take due to the possibility of addiction and symptom masking. Her pain persisted for several weeks with no improvement, so she saw another IU physician, and then a third.  

The third physician informed her that the probable cause of her low back pain was tight hamstrings. By this time, her coach doubted the severity of her injury and “isolated” her from the team along with the other injured athletes. She was denied team gear for not meeting practice goals.

According to the ESPN Outside The Lines article, Hoosier athletes are instructed to see athletic department and school approved physicians and not personal physicians. Ms. Beck, frustrated with 15 months of pain and having seen three IU physicians, sought help from an outside spine specialist. This physician diagnosed her with a significant lumbosacral injury so severe that she was instructed to stop rowing immediately. She was told that scar tissue was the only thing connecting her lumbar spine to her sacrum.

The prevalence of maltreatment of IU athletes was well known throughout the athletic department and with the firing of head football coach Kevin Wilson, an investigation of other incidences began. The result of an investigation of the football program determined the athletes had not received improper care and the coaches had not exerted pressure on the medical staff. It did note, however, “behaviors by the coaching staff that may create an unhealthy environment for players”. With these occurrences brought to the publics attention, many changes have been implemented. One such change is employing physicians through Indiana University and naming a Chief Medical Officer.

The take away from these incidences is that we, as healthcare professionals are the first line of defense and support of the athletes in our care. The presence of overbearing coaches and others, as well as insufficient follow-on care, can make the lives of the athletes difficult and in some cases unhealthy. Our role as advocates should provoke us to action to ensure the recovery, health, and performance of those we care for.