Working with Pro Athletes is Not Enough to Make You an Expert; Yet Another Surgery for Brandon Roy!

Was his career really over? With chronic knee pain and seven surgeries later, Brandon Roy is still fighting for his playing career. (Wire image)

To keep up with the latest from Zig Ziegler, follow Zig on twitter @zig_ziegler.

Brandon Roy was once regarded as one of the most prolific guards in the NBA.  With excellent lateral explosiveness and sleek moves to the basket, the All-Star guard was poised to go down as one of the greatest in NBA history.  Just before the start of the 2011 NBA season, Brandon Roy announced his retirement from playing professional basketball.

Unfortunately, Brandon Roy has been a victim of the system. The system is present in basketball, football, and baseball, and all sports at the professional and youth levels. The system is a part of a culture that we have seen all to often shorten or ruin the careers of some of sports greatest athletes.  Many athletes go on to to achieve success in spite of this system and culture.

The system and culture I am referring to is related to the treatment and care of athletes, and most importantly in Brandon’s case, care of sports or athletic injuries.  In the world of sports, injured athletes are viewed as unable to help the team and often times a distraction.  Many coaches, knowingly and unknowingly, relegate the mental state of injured players to the bottom of the depth chart as well as their bodies once an athlete is injured.  Some athletes are so dedicated to their return that they will push themselves hard to get back on the court or the field even when their bodies show signs that they are not ready.  Brandon Roy is one of those athletes who will do whatever it takes to get back on the court.

Beset with chronic injuries to his left knee, Brandon wore one knee brace or sleeve while playing in Portland. (Getty images)

Some successful athletes seek advice outside of their immediate medical team. After seven surgical procedures, Brandon Roy did just that and all I can say is… Good for Brandon!  Public perception is that if a medical group, team of doctors, physical therapists, athletic trainer works with a professional sports team they must be the best. If a pro team trust multimillion dollar athletes with a medical expert, the average person believes that medical group must be good enough for them.  Unfortunately, that’s just not true.  In today’s world, some professional teams hire based on cost.  Others hire or obtain a team based upon a close personal relationship. The buddy system is always at play especially in America.

In 1994, I sat in one of my graduate school classes at the University of Northern Colorado wondering what was the next step I would take towards achieving my goals.  After a few weeks of contemplating my future I sat down with my grad school adviser, Dr. David Stotlar. A well respected administrator around the country in sports, Dr. Stotlar served as one of the pioneers in the emerging field of Sports Marketing. The UNC program was one of only five universities in the country at the time offering a Master’s degree in the field of Sports Marketing and Administration.  I asked the following question:

What happens in the interview process for a job with a professional sports team after I complete my master’s, if I am down to one of the final two candidates for a job? There I would sit with a Master’s Degree in Sports Business, a Degree in Kinesiology, and experience as a former athlete.  Candidate number two, happens to be the workout or drinking buddy of the General Manager’s son and also plays golf periodically with the decision maker.  I asked, “Who would get the job?”  Dr. Stotlar replied, “Well Zig, unfortunately for you, the job is likely to go to the buddy of the GM’s son. ”

At that point I set out to work on relationships and building a reputation of doing quality work. My efforts lead to friendships with numerous professional athletes including Charles Barkley, Michael Jordan and many others.  i worked hard to open the doors to numerous opportunities in professional sports. I’ve been blessed to have been able to work with some of the greatest athletes in the world.  But that alone does not make even me anymore of an expert than the recent college graduate. What makes any person better in their field and in life is their experiences and how they learn from them.  Working with some of the greatest athletes in the world in multiple sports has forced me to think outside of the box and evaluate each athlete and their goals or conditions on an individual basis, regardless of whether or not they played the same sport or suffered the same injuries as others with who I had worked.

All too often that happens today, especially in professional sports. After all, just take a simple look at how often coaches are recycled from team to team.  NBA coaches move from one team to another. When a head coach gets a new job, he brings in his entire staff of good friends, brothers, and associates whom they trust.  A coach can bring in their entire system to their new team.  Assistant coaches, strength coaches, even athletic trainers sometimes change jobs based on the buddy system  Once in the system, the less effective at their jobs begin to work the system to ensure their longetivity in the event the coach who brought them in moves on.  If a staff has been there for a while even through poor job performance something else is keeping them on staff. Most of the time, that something is relationships.

The bad news is for the new team is that If a coach’s entire system didn’t work in one program, its not likely to work in another  The smart members of that new staff recognize the writing on the wall from the last job and start working relationships the moment they walk in the door.  The culture of professional basketball is unlike any other professional sport.  In football, coaches bring in experts and specialists on offense and pair them with experts on defense and other areas crucial to the entire team’s success.  In basketball, an offensive guru, often gets a job and fills crucial coaching roster spots with more offensive gurus to help implement their system. Professional sports team positions are filled with coaches and administrators who were fired as a group from one place and move as a group to coach a whole new team.  Coach’s mistakenly bring all the problems they had in one organization over to their new teams. Why do they do this?  Loyalty, comfort, and control.

Professional sports are highly political and and a close fraternity. Once you are in, you could be in for life. Even if you are not the best in your field. Once you are out of the system you may be out temporarily or permanently depending upon your persistence and actual value to a team or player.  You can be kicked out of the fraternity sometimes based on the simple fact that you challenged the system, even if you are one of the best at what you do. This is the buddy system at its finest.  Unfortunately, this buddy system isn’t just happening with coaches on the bench, it happens with experts who care for the athletes.

And that is not the best way to determine the best care for multimillion dollar athletes.

Sometimes a handshake is all it takes to become a part of any professional or collegiate sports medicine or strenght and conditioning teams. Others pay for the rights (sponsorships) or accept less pay for treating players. Any money not paid for services is made up by the publicity from the association with a professional team.

It’s definitely not the best way to provide care for youth athletes. This buddy system affects youth sports too, as parents race their kids to the lines building in the offices of the team doctors for professional and collegiate sports teams in their area.  Often, you hear parents boast about getting their kid in to the see the team doctor for XXXX professional or collegiate teams.

Often times, they boast right after their 14 year old has completed an unnecessary surgical procedure when all they might have needed was rest and proper body development.  they won’t even know this procedure was unnecessary for years to come.  This trickle down affect is causing many youth athletes to now begin to suffer repeat injuries. This system is broken and won’t be fixed until athletes take control of their own medical care.

An athlete with repeat injuries is often labeled negatively as injury prone or high risk.  Once an athlete is labeled as have high risk of injury or injury prone, they can be blackballed or see their career placed in jeopardy as a result of what has nothing to do with them as a person.  Injuries to a player like Brandon Roy are not treated them same. And this credit can be given solely to Brandon himself.  He is given the benefit of the doubt and ample consideration because of his talent and excellent character.  Brandon Roy is a great person.  As a result of his character and personality, people root for him.  I root for Brandon Roy, Greg Oden, Derrick Rose, and even Kobe Bryant (I’m a Bull’s fan remember) especially when it comes to their health. Every player deserve a better healthcare system.  A system where they can have open access to the best health care available and believe or not, they currently do not.  Some programs obviously get better care than others as they hire medical staffs that are on the cutting edge or at least open minded.  Brandon Roy deserves a chance to get healthy and stay healthy.

Less than a year ago, Brandon Roy was headed for retirement and probably a career in coaching basketball.  After what I am sure was careful consideration and weighing his options, Brandon took the steps he believed necessary to get back on the court.  It is reported that Brandon underwent PRP (platelet rich plasma) injections similar to those reportedly undergone by Kobe Bryant, Greg Oden and others in an effort to help aid in the recovery and repair of damaged or deficient tissue.

I can imagine Brandon felt great in the days and weeks following the procedure.  As a result of how good he felt and a testament to his own personal work ethic, Brandon Roy was able to return to the NBA after many had given his career up for dead.  Brandon Roy proved many doubters wrong.  I for one was excited about his comeback.  After all,  one of my earlier writings predicted that Brandon Roy could and would play again!

Unfortunately for Brandon, his road to recovery is not quite complete. I was not surprised when I awoke on November 19 to reports that Brandon Roy would undergo an arthroscopic procedure on his knee.  After seven procedures on his left knee, this surgery was to Brandon’s right knee.  This is concerning to me and should be to his medical team in Minnesota as Brandon has now started to experience “compensatory pain and injury to what has previously been a healthy body part.  (Remember Greg Oden in 2008/2009: Oden Rupture Patella Tendon in healthy left knee as a result of compensating for multiple previous surgeries on his right knee. Oden first began to experience signs of patella tendonitis in the left knee months prior to the left knee injury.  In my opinion, someone addressed the patella tendonitis as a symptom, not a compensation injury).

In Minnesota Brnadon Roy can be seen wearing two compession sleeves knees sleeves. This can be done as a result injury or pain to both knees or as a preventative measure. (Getty Images)

A compensation injury occurs when either consciously or subconsciously a person unloads a previously injured area to avoid pain, discomfort, or re-injury.  Typically, an athlete who suffers an injury to the left knee shifts that stress to the other leg. (This involves repeated injuries in the case of Brandon Roy)  Think about this, when an injury occurs the first response from the brain is to protect the area from further pain or injury. This can be notice by the athele who injures one leg and hops off the field or court on the other leg. The athlete is so focused on being in control of their body and showing that they aren’t helpless that they use one leg instead of two to go from point A to point B.  Crowds often applaud this effort. But in reality it can be seen as a foreshadowing of things to come.

While surgery is a way doctors help repair specific damage, surgery can still be considered an intentional injury to some tissue in an effort to repair a more important injury.  Immediately after surgery, an athlete is unable to utilized the newly repaired leg for some limited amount of time.

What’s next for Brandon?  Well unfortunately I predict another injury to Brandon’s left knee immediately following this surgery. Brandon’s healthy right knee has now forced all the stress back to his chronically injured left knee and upon return to the court if not before, Brandon will begin to experience more pain and discomfort in his left knee.  If he shifts that stress immediately back to his right knee, Brandon could suffer cartilage damage, an MCL (medial collateral ligament) tear, or an ACL (anterior cruciate ligament ) tear or Patella tendon issues on the right knee.  Because of Brandon’s history I would put my money on the right knee suffering a more acute injury but he may begin to experience more pain on his left knee before he even gets a chance to get back on he court.

Compensation injuries are difficult to deal with and become chronic injuries almost instantly unless the root cause of the problem has been address. A word of advice to Brandon:

  1. Eliminate surgery as an option unless there is structural damage.
  2. Identify the root cause of your issues and stop settling for the quick fix.
  3. Hire someone who can pay attention to detail of how you perform each exercise during rehab and strength training.

I have no personal desire to hold Brandon’s hand through recovery from this or any surgery. But will readily offer my advice to him and his staff on what is contributing to his injuries. I require a lot from any athlete I work with emotionally and psychologically but most importantly, I require support from the people around the athlete.  They are the ones who are with the athlete every day and should be able to see impending issues.  Until Brandon stops experimenting with procedures, surgeries and other quick fixes, his injuries are destined to repeat themselves of migrate to other parts of his body.  Brandon Roy can get back on the court and stay on the court but he has to select better people to help him achieve his goal.

If there is one thing the last year has taught me personally, it’s that your career can be affected by the people you put around you and the decisions they make.  My professional and personal life was affected by the actions of others whom I brought onto my team almost five years ago.  I accept that responsibility that I allowed them to turn me into a victim. But no one can be a victim forever. Brandon Roy’s life is currently being affected by people on his team who may not have intentions of harming him but they are doing just that. Brandon has become a victim allowing just about anything that might help his injury recovery to drive his thoughts and procedures.  Get to the root cause of your injuries Brandon. Take control back Brandon! It’s not easy, but I did it and so can you!

Zig Ziegler is a sports kinesiologist and professional sports consultant.  To keep up with the latest from Zig Ziegler, follow Zig on twitter @zig_ziegler.

7 thoughts on “Working with Pro Athletes is Not Enough to Make You an Expert; Yet Another Surgery for Brandon Roy!

  1. Great read. I’d like to know if the “quick fix” that you mention people should stop trying to rely on in their attempt to get back from injury, is anything specific – minor surgery, PRP, ultrasound, laser and so on (?). I agree that the root cause of the problem must be solved and if that problem is a biomechanical issue, then that must be adressed before any comeback attempt.

    • Hi Mark,

      Thanks for the comment. The answer to your question about the “quick fix” is all of the above and then some. Our society in particular in America has become focused on treating symptoms. We see it in the economy, sports competition, home life, work and play. But most importantly, with regards to my blogs, we we see it in fitness, sports medicine, and instruction. It’s time for a change. We need to get back to the basics. When did fitness rehab, and sports medicine get so out of control? Check out my next release on Thursday to start the new year. Happy New Year to you!

  2. I want to thank you for the reply you gave me.
    A reason why I’ve paid interest in Brandon Roy’s case (besides being a big fan of his and a physical therapist student) is that I share quite a similar injury history with him. I have not had any knee surgeries though, but I injured my left knee by playing basketball about 5 years ago. I never got a diagnose by my doctor back then even though the knee was unstable and gave away for several months after a landing injury after a dunk attempt.
    After doing a rehab program for a few months (designed for patients with torn meniscus) tried to play ball again and did okay for a while, but after some months I started experiencing pain a different place – under my left kneecap. That pain kept coming back during running, jumping, twisting and turning, so I stopped playing and started to ask doctors and PT’s for advice. Nobody could tell what was wrong through tests nor MRI and ultrasound scans which revieled nothing.
    Then this past winter a PT noticed that my lateral plica was very tender and thickened and did several cross friction massage treatments on it to brake up scar tissue which helped in terms of that pain. Around the same time I recieved 3 PRP injections. Maybe that helped on my plica issues, but since then my retropatellar pain has kept coming back when trying to run, jump or turn, which I I’m convinced has to do with maltracking of the patella. When I walk around I am pain free, but pushing on my kneecap creates light pain as does sitting still for longer periods. My left VMO is quite atrophied, so like you mentioned, as long as the root cause of the problem is there, pain will keep coming back. I am also very quad dominant, have tight hips with femoral heads not centrated in the socket, a kyfo-lordotic posture, an unstable lower back (probably due to due to poor breathing mechanics and lack of TA and multifidi activation) and a pronated right foot, weak right foot plantar flexors compared to my left and all those imbalances could be factors to my chronic knee pain.

    Right now I want to address my biomechanical issues before I make a final attempt to playing ball again and possibly get a few more PRP or orthokine aka.regenokine injections since my knee had started to show signs of arthritis. Looking back at my injury history it amazes me that so many so called experts weren’t able to find the root cause of my problems. Most of them just told me that me knee was fine since the laxity and ligament tests and scans were negative. Despite of what the inventor of regenokin (German Doctor Peter Wieling) says about the treatments effectiveness against knee arthritis scientific evidence still remains to be seen about it’s ability to stop the chronic degenerative intraarticular process. As an upcoming PT and a current basketball coach, my wish is to try to prevent injuries like my own or the snow ball effect of them to destroy athletic careers like mine did and look to find the root cause of the athletes problems.
    Thanks for the inspiration and knowleadge you have given me through your articles.

    • Mark,

      Thanks for the post and the kind words. It is my pleasure to be able to share information that both educates and inspires improvements. In my opinion, your solution lies inside the comments you just made. You identify several symptoms and procedures you’ve undertaken to address those symptoms. But here is your root cause. In your comment you said, “….and a pronated right foot, weak right foot plantar flexors compared to my left and all those imbalances could be factors to my chronic knee pain.”

      Provided your Right foot/plantar flexors are actually weak and not fatigued (there is a difference), then then ROOT CAUSE would be your weak right foot. The other biomechanics issues you describe are symptoms which are affected by the weak foundation. My recommendation: address your weak right foot issues and your problems should subside. But you have to address them in the right way. You are not just weak in plantar flexion. There are other issues to be addressed in the correct plane of movement where you need it most.

      All the best!

      Zig Z.

  3. Thank you very much. I am sure that the maltracking of my left kneecap has led to the chondromalacia patellae, but if the right foot weakness is a root cause to my left knee problems, I would guess that it leeds to improper leading and a shift of weight towards my left leg. I will definately say that there is a strength difference around the ankles and my balances if MUCH better on my left leg than my right. I also failed to mention that I badly sprained my RIGHT ankle around 4 years ago – after my initial knee problems but before the retropatellar pain. Most of my global muscles are strong, but may also fire at times to compensate for lack of postural muscle activation. I do have postural syndrome and a bad habit of shifting my bodyweight towards my LEFT leg when standing still. This is a subconcious thing, but probably something I’ve done to get kind of a gate control effect to relieve my left knee pain.
    I can imagine that you are a very busy man, so I really appreciete you taking the time to not only just help out my but many others. Your articles alone led me to read a lot about kinesiology (a neglected part of our danish PT education in my opinion) and I want my bachelor project to concern investigation on why many basketball players tend to get jumper’s knee.
    Looking forward to more exciting articles from you.

    All the best to you too.

  4. Hi,
    I injured my right knee at about August of last year. I challenged a lay-up, my right leg grazed the shoulder of my opponent, I lost my balance and landed awkwardly on my right led. All my weight came down on my leg and it twisted inward. I heard a loud pop and immediately felt severe pain in my knee. I thought I dislocated my knee or something but after a few hours I was able to bear a little weight on it as I was walking without assistance but the pain really was severe. I pushed through the pain thinking it was just a sprain and I did not have it checked as I don’t have fund for the doctor’s fee. After three weeks I tried to play again although my knee is still very stiff. I was playing fairly well but then I did a quick crossover and that’s when I felt that all too familiar pop. My knee buckled in I immediately stopped playing. I was still able to walk, run and jump but I got scared because after that incident I knew something was wrong with the way my knee felt. I had my knee checked, the ortho did a Lachman’s test, and he said it was a possible ACL tear. He order for an MRI, and as we all know, those things cost a fortune, so I did not get the MRI and just try to rest it out. Played again (big mistake) and while driving the lane a got bump mid-air landed on my bad knee, and popped it again. Got it checked again by a different ortho and he too ordered an MRI as he wanted to confirm if it was a partial or full tear. Got a third opinion this time from a sports doctor and he said it was decisive that I have an ACL tear and that my ACL is incompetent and would not be able to provide me stability whether or not it is a full or partial tear. He did not order an MRI and opted for reconstructive surgery because according to him, I would not be able to return to my previous level of activity without it. I could not afford an MRI, how on earth can I affor surgery. I was hoping that you could give me tips on how to recover from this and even an exercise program to help rehab my knee and prevent future injuries. I am 22 years old and I really am aspiring to be a pro athlete since I was introduced to sports. Please help me achieve my dream and recover from this injury. I recently re-injured my knee playing half-court basketball. I try to stay fairly active doing some shoot arounds in the court but not participating in full-court games. I also try to hit the gym 5 days a week. I do exercises that strengthen my hamstrings and quads in order to achieve some stablity. I am inactive now for almost 2 weeks since the most recent knee bucklng but before that I try to keep as active as I possibly can. I do the Optimum Anabolics program by Jeff Anderson as my main gym workout. Please help me as I am willing to do endure any apin and hardwork to achieve my dream. I don’t want to waste my potential and I refuse to live the rest of my life doing things I don’t love and not living my dream. I hope you feel the passion and motivation in my words. Thanks in advance.

    • Hello Roberto,

      You really need a biomechanics assessment to determine the root cause of your issues. The weight training program may be contributing to your risks if you do not have the strength and flexibility in all muscles to properly perform each exercise. IF you have tear surgery is a likely option you’ll have to consider . Regardless you’ll need to improve your body from the ground up not just from the knee up.

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