Surgeon wants less work

Staff WriterJune 17, 2010 

Dr. James Andrews has a goal. His goal is to keep young athletes - baseball pitchers, especially - on the field and out of the operating room. He's failing.

Andrews is failing because, out of ignorance or greed, many parents and coaches turn youth baseball from a seasonal sport into a year-round extravaganza. They want their kid to make the travel team, receive the scholarship, win the big contract.

Some of the young pitchers parlay their overworked arms into a trip all the way to Birmingham, Ala. - site of the Andrews Sports Medicine and Orthopedic Center.

Andrews, 67, is the best-known orthopedic surgeon in the country and a legend among professional athletes. Clients include Minnesota quarterback Brett Favre. Andrews performed surgery on Favre's ankle three weeks ago. And, no, the doctor won't say if he thinks Favre will play next season.

Andrews, who spoke to the Charlotte Touchdown Club Wednesday, has worked with New England quarterback Tom Brady, Charlotte Bobcats' owner Michael Jordan, 12 of the 22 starters on the Super Bowl champion New Orleans Saints and professional wrestler Sexy Chocolate.

You've never heard, however, of the majority of the patients on which Andrews now operates. About 60 percent are high-school aged or younger. Many are specialists. They play one sport, and they play it all year.

But before we get to them, let's talk about an athlete you do know - Carolina Panthers' linebacker Thomas Davis.

Davis tore the ACL in his right knee seven months ago, and he tore it again last week in practice.

Todd France, who is Davis' agent, talked to Andrews about doing the surgery. But Andrews says he sent Davis back to Charlotte, adding that some of the best doctors in the country are here. Panthers' team doctor Pat Connor operated Saturday.

After Andrews concludes his Touchdown Club talk, I ask if the injury recurred because Davis returned from the initial surgery too early.

"Those things happen," says Andrews, who despite the gravity of his message wears a gold and white jacket and bright tie. "You can't prevent them. They're what we call a fluke."

He says a player can run the same drill 100 times without a problem. And then, inexplicably, he gets hurt.

But did Davis come back too soon?

"You never can prove that," he says.

Davis wasn't wearing a brace when he was hurt. Should he have?

"It's never been proven that a brace prevents an injury," Andrews says. He adds that most players refuse to wear one.

"So you know that (Davis' injury) is not a controversial thing," he says.

Encouraging a teenage pitcher to throw year-round is.

Andrews is a proponent of youth sports. He thinks kids benefit - but only if they can play. Because too many succumb to injury, the organization he heads, the American Society for Sports Medicine, began a campaign called STOP (Sports Trauma and Overuse Prevention).

The biggest private donation to the STOP, incidentally, came from a citizen, whom Andrews declines to name, in Charlotte.

If you have a young athlete in your house or team, check STOP's website, stopsports .

Would you like to return, I ask, to the days when, after a season ended, a kid played a different sport?

"Let kids play," he says, seizing upon the word. "I want kids to play."

Instead of throwing at the park or in the yard, they compete in games and tournaments, where every pitch counts. They go as far as their arm will take them.

Too often it takes them to Alabama, a state without a major league team. or 704-358-5119

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