Penn State's O'Brien responds angrily to Sports Illustrated report

FILE - In this April 20, 2013, file photo, Penn State head coach Bill O'Brien answers questions during a news conference following their spring NCAA college football scrimmage in State College, Pa. Penn State has 67 scholarship football players on its roster and O'Brien said Wednesday, May 8, that he sees no reason why that will change significantly by the time the season starts on Aug. 31. (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic, File)
FILE - In this April 20, 2013, file photo, Penn State head coach Bill O'Brien answers questions during a news conference following their spring NCAA college football scrimmage in State College, Pa. Penn State has 67 scholarship football players on its roster and O'Brien said Wednesday, May 8, that he sees no reason why that will change significantly by the time the season starts on Aug. 31. (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic, File) (Keith Srakocic)
Posted: May 17, 2013

Bill O'Brien was angry. His voice rose often Wednesday on a conference call with reporters. Some folks swore they could feel the spittle through the phone.

The Penn State coach spent much of a 20-minute call blasting a Sports Illustrated report implying that medical care for Nittany Lions football players had diminished because of recent changes that included the removal of Wayne Sebastianelli as head physician of the program, a post he held for 21 years.

The story, which appears in SI's May 20 issue, also portrayed a rivalry between Sebastianelli and current athletic director Dave Joyner, an orthopedic surgeon who lost out to Sebastianelli in 1992 when the university created the position of head physician of the football program at the urging of Joe Paterno.

O'Brien repeatedly defended the quality of medical treatment of his players and called the SI report a "character assassination" of Joyner.

"The players' health and safety is the No. 1 priority to me," O'Brien said. "For anyone to suggest, or perhaps outright accuse, that anyone within Penn State's athletic program would do otherwise is irresponsible, reckless, and wrong.

"We have a deep connection with our players. We are battling an uphill battle. We have 65 scholarships, 67 scholarships. Do you think for one second I would jeopardize the health and safety of this football team with 65 kids on scholarships? That's preposterous."

Sebastianelli continues as the director of athletic medicine overseeing all Penn State sports medical services. Peter Seidenberg replaced him as head physician for football, with Scott Lynch being named orthopedic consultant.

Sports Illustrated, however, suggested the shift provides less on-site coverage by doctors because Lynch is based in Hershey and is expected to be on campus for one day a week for practices, although he attends every game. Seidenberg is a primary care physician.

O'Brien said that a doctor will be present at every practice, and that an orthopedic surgeon, while not at practice every day, "will be there in the office, in the training room . . . they'll be around."

Joyner, a former Penn State football player and wrestler who became acting athletic director in November 2011 after Tim Curley was indicted on perjury charges in the Jerry Sandusky child sex-abuse scandal, came in for particular scrutiny in the SI article. It quoted former players and staff members as hearing arguments between Joyner and Sebastianelli over whether Joyner was trying to lure athletes away from university medical care.

Joyner became full-time AD last January. Shortly afterward, Sebastianelli was ordered to clear out his office in the football building in one day, the magazine reported.

Joyner issued a second statement on the article Wednesday afternoon.

"Any changes that were made were done for, and only for, the benefit of the student-athletes, the football program, and for Penn State," he said. "Any characterization otherwise is appalling, offensive, preposterous, and completely untrue."

The article also examined head athletic trainer Tim Bream, who was hired in February 2012. It quoted a Penn State sports medicine professional as saying the medical program had gone "from a physician-driven model . . . to an athletic trainer-driven model."

The magazine quoted sources saying that Bream dispensed prescription drugs without a doctor's approval and engaged "in other procedures requiring special certification or a medical license," such as operating an X-ray machine.

A statement from Penn State confirmed that "questions and rumors" about Bream were investigated by an outside law firm, which concluded that "there was no credible or substantial evidence to support the allegations or rumors, and there was no wrongdoing or violation of any professional standards."


Contact Joe Juliano

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