O'Brien calls SI report 'irresponsible' and 'wrong'
By Scott Brown
Published: Wednesday, May 15, 2013, 8:51 p.m.
Penn State coach Bill O'Brien fired back Wednesday at a Sports Illustrated special report that questions whether changes on the school's athletic medical staff could compromise the safety of his players.
“Their health and safety is the No. 1 priority for me. It's not near the top, it's not around the top, it's at the top,” O'Brien said during a conference call. “For anyone to suggest or outright accuse that anyone within Penn State's athletic program would do otherwise is irresponsible, reckless and wrong.”
Penn State tried to get in front of the story that focuses on the reorganization of the sports medicine staff — and the motives behind it — before Sports Illustrated hit newsstands on Wednesday. A Penn State spokesman issued statements late Tuesday night from O'Brien, athletic director Dave Joyner and Dr. Harold Paz, the CEO of Penn State Hershey Medical Center.
The university issued additional statements Wednesday, including one that said, “The article fundamentally distorts the facts. There's been no change in model of medical care for our student-athletes.”
During a contentious conference call with reporters, O'Brien offered the strongest rebuttal to the SI article, which also claims head trainer Tim Bream overstepped his medical authority. The second-year coach made clear that he takes personally assertions that changes made in January may have diminished the quality of Penn State's medical care for the football players.
Dr. Wayne Sebastianelli, an orthopedic surgeon who had been the team's primary doctor since 1992, now oversees Penn State's athletic medical program but does not work with the football team on a daily basis. Dr. Peter Seidberg and Dr. Scott Lynch replaced Sebastianelli as the team's head physician and orthopedic surgeon, respectively, in a change that the school only announced after it had been reported.
O'Brien said he recommended the changes to his bosses after observing the program for a year. The Sports Illustrated story asserts that Joyner wanted the job that Sebastianelli got in 1992, and that is why he pushed for the latter to get reassigned.
“What that article was to me was a character assassination of Dave Joyner, and it wasn't anything other than that,” O'Brien said. “The care for our players medically is superb. I spent much time on Sunday on the phone with Sports Illustrated. I didn't have any quotes in the story.”
The story quoted Adam Taliaferro, who suffered a severe spinal injury in 2000 and credits the care he received from Sebastianelli for his overcoming overwhelming odds to walk again.
Taliaferro told SI that Sebastianelli is family and that “I'm trying to figure out what is going on.”
But Taliaferro said Wednesday that he “didn't know the context” when he talked to SI back in January. Taliaferro, a member of Penn State's Board of Trustees, said he didn't know about changes in the sports medicine department when SI first asked him about Sebastianelli and that he thought the magazine was doing a feature story on Sebastianelli.
Another member of the board said the SI story raised some concerns with him.
“I believe Bill O'Brien is a fine football coach,” said Anthony Lubrano, the most outspoken member of the board. “But I also think the health care of our athletes should not solely be the responsibility of the football coach.”
Penn State issued a release comparing its in-season medical coverage with programs from across the country, including LSU, Michigan State, Northwestern and Nebraska. O'Brien said the coverage has not fundamentally changed and that it is as good as anywhere he has ever been.
O'Brien said the NCAA sanctions, which limit the amount of players Penn State is allowed to have on scholarship, is another reason why player safety is his top priority.
“You think for one second I would jeopardize the health and safety of this football team with 65 kids on scholarship?” O'Brien said. “That's preposterous.”
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Garden Q&A: Firecracker vine OK for trellis?
- Starkey: Penguins’ arrogance astounding
- Matt Calvert’s goal in double OT evens series for Blue Jackets
- Boxer ‘Hurricane’ Carter, famously wrongly convicted, dies at 76
- Draftees’ longevity key for NFL success
- Miss America asks York school to rethink prom question suspension
- More women seize opportunities to start businesses
- Penguins’ Gibbons scores twice but leaves with apparent injury
- Biertempfel: Kendall’s book offers inside look at life in majors
- NFL notebook: Pryor will be cut if he’s not traded
- Patients nationwide die waiting as 1 in 5 kidneys rejected by doctors