Doctor for UNC women’s basketball team defends standard of care

Harry Stafford, the physician who has been one focus of an investigation into the North Carolina women’s basketball program, publicly responded to allegations of player mistreatment for the first time this week.

“As I have said repeatedly, I stand on a 17-year career of caring for athletes from all over the country,” Stafford said in a statement to The News & Observer. “Throughout my career, the athletes I’ve served have received the best care available.”

UNC women’s basketball team physician Harry Stafford. UNC School of Medicine

Earlier this month, UNC-Chapel Hill hired a law firm to investigate the culture of its women’s basketball program after several players accused the head coach of pressuring players to play injured, among other allegations.

Sylvia Hatchell, the coach, has since resigned after 33 years. Some players accused the team doctor of not standing up for them, according to recent news stories, and alleged their injuries were worse than they were led to believe.

Stafford said in an email that the specific incidents questioning his care are being reviewed by independent evaluators.

Stafford’s comments come following a story published in the N&O this week, which stated that North Carolina and N.C. Central planned to keep Stafford as their team’s physician, despite allegations that he often gave players painkiller shots to play while injured.

In the email, Stafford did not respond to questions on who initiated the review or who the evaluators were, but said he looks forward to seeing the results.

This is the first time Stafford has commented publicly since the allegations were first made in March.

The Washington Post, citing 11 players and parents interviewed, reported that players felt constant pressure to rush back to competition under Hatchell, and the team’s medical staff did not support players.

Some parents alleged that their daughters were pressured to take painkiller shots and play. After seeking second opinions, some players found out that their injuries were worse than what Stafford described when he cleared them to play, according to the Post’s story.

The News & Observer previously reported that a parent said his daughter faced pressure to play through injuries, and the team doctor downplayed the severity of an injury she suffered. After seeking a second opinion, and seeking her medical records from UNC, the parent and player found out the injury was more serious than they were led to believe, the parent told the N&O earlier this month.

But the investigation, according to the university, concluded otherwise.

“Despite Hatchell’s questioning of player care, status and readiness, the medical staff did not surrender to pressure to clear players before they were medically ready,” the university said in a press release.

The university has chosen not to make the investigation public.

Cunningham, through a spokesperson, said Stafford’s status remains unchanged. A spokesperson at N.C. Central, where Stafford is the head team physician, also said Stafford is still on staff.

Stafford has served as the team physician for women’s basketball since 2008. He is also the primary care physician for the track and field and cross country teams. Stafford completed his medical training at UNC. He completed a sports medicine fellowship at Duke in 2006.

Stafford is also an associate professor in the Department of Orthopedics and Family Medicine at UNC and makes $163,081 a year.