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November 20, 2014

A Case to Better Manage Sports Pains

Harry M. Covert

The sporting life of these modern times is over the moon, to borrow an old expression. As was mentioned recently, federal agencies are getting into the act, supposedly to keep everybody clean, quite possibly pure.


Every locality takes prodigious pride in their athletic pursuits and achievements of both boys and girls and young men and women. They should.


In my day, traditional categories were football, basketball, baseball, cross country and track and field. A few school districts had wresting programs. Oh, yes, the girls had separate but not equal programs, like field hockey, basketball with crazy rules, something like dribble seven times and then pass. That’s all different today. And for the good.


One of my longtime friends, and frequent correspondent to my writings, is always on the mark.


Steve Maguigan was a brilliant high school football player and earned a full scholarship to Virginia Tech some 40 years ago. In addition to being a prodigious football player, Steve was an Academic All-American and earned a law degree at Mr. Jefferson’s Charlottesville university.


“When I played at Tech, more than 40 years ago, there was very little control of pain killers,” he responded to my column, “A Day with Federal Agents.” I wrote I was feeling sorry for athletes at all levels.


Sports are big business despite some critics. I have often been a wise guy critic.


Mr. Maguigan’s career has included a prosecutor in several Virginia jurisdictions. He was quite effective and has remained a steadfast sportsman and Virginia Tech loyalist.


His courtroom efforts never included any capital cases, but he did serve the public well with a life sentence for a murder-robbery; one ABC (state liquor) store robber got 186 years, and because he had two or more convictions of violent felonies involving the use of a firearm, he will never be eligible for parole. He dealt his co-defendant 100 years, again with no parole! So, in practice, those were two life sentences.


While a terrific prosecutor protecting the public, Steve is a gentle soul and is an expert on sports competitions at all levels.


Of course, athletes and athletic programs were a bit different in years past. Pressure to win was extremely high and so was pain.


“Many of my team mates would self-administer these painkillers before the games to get through the pain. Others merely liked the euphoria they induced. One teammate, who was a rarely used reserve, would take a diet pill (speed) before the game and had a second one taped inside his thigh pad to take at half time,” Steve wrote.


Besides flattering me for Tuesday’s piece, he was rather profound concerning the current state of pain relievers for athletes. He wrote:


“With the physical demands of football (and any other high level sport), there is a genuine need for pain killers, muscle relaxers and other similar pharmaceuticals. I am currently suffering from lower back pain and am taking tramadol, under prescription, which aids me greatly.


“I always tried to play through the pain, but occasionally needed something for the pain in order to go out on the field and perform. I never over-medicated to the point that I would be unaware of a new injury and do further damage to the affected body part. This was not true of some of my contemporaries and certainly does not hold true today.


“There needs to be a balance between an absolute ban on pain medications and the possible banning of all such pharmaceuticals in major sports. Professional and responsible medical care-givers who only prescribe what is necessary and then monitor its use are needed, but in these days of the almighty dollar ruling all and teams pressuring athletes to perform, I hold out little hope for the type of sea change that will be necessary.


“That is not to say that federal law enforcement should be the monitoring apparatus. Let them control the flow of illegal drugs into the country and across state lines, but leave the enforcement of responsible drug policies to the leagues, where it should be.


“Only if there is a total breakdown of such policies should we even consider further governmental intrusion, as in all facets of life.  Rather, the government should advise the leagues that if they do not enforce professional standards, only then will they be forced to step into the fray.”


There’s nothing new under the sun.


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