Friday, October 24, 2008
Kellen Winslow Jr., the all-pro tight end for the Cleveland Browns, has always been a little hard to take. The son of a Hall of Famer has had a career marked by controversy and playing field achievement. I've never been a huge fan. He was the villain in the 2003 title game between Ohio St. amd Miami. He has that crazed rant (see above) about being a soldier playing the game of football (while hundreds of American servicemen were dying monthly in the killing fields of Fallujah). Still rehabbing a broken leg his rookie year with the Browns, he foolishly blew out his ACL speeding on his motorcycle. Currently, he's embroiled in a contract dispute with Browns management even though he has several years left on the signed deal. He can be insufferable and incredibly self-absorbed. But, as painful as it is for me to say, I think he's getting a raw deal in this latest flap.
Winslow was hospitalized last week for three days at the Cleveland Clinic Foundation (world renowned, most advanced institute of higher medical performance) under mysterious circumstances. Rumors on the internet suggested a horrifying case of, um, orchitis. Winslow himself broke the silence this week, saying he was afflicted with another staph infection, his second in the past two years. Where and how severe were not identified. Winslow claimed that the Browns "encouraged" him to keep the details of his infection private. When his GM didn't call him in the hospital, his feelings were hurt and he angrily opened up and intimated that his workplace environment is possibly unsafe: “There’s obviously a problem and we have to fix it. Just look at the history around here.”
Seven Browns have now been infected with MRSA (methicillin resistant staphylococcus aureas) infections over the past few years. LeCharles Bentley, recovering from bilateral patellar tendon repairs, developed a MRSA infection that required multiple trips to the OR for washouts and there was talk at one time of the possibility of an amputation if the infection didn't clear. Clearly, there is something going on. Winslow expressed his (understandable) concern to the press and the Browns responded by suspending him for a game and fining him $235,000. The case is currently being appealed by Winslow.
Even in the quasi-fascist realm of the NFL where players are routinely fined for endzone celebrations or having the wrong color socks and are governed by the vaguely menacing and Orwellian "personal conduct code", this is going a little too far. Even Roger Goodell can't legislate what comes out of K-II's mouth. Phil Savage, the Brown's GM, then awkwardly tried to invoke HIPAA laws to justify why the Browns wanted Winslow to keep silent. Of course HIPAA laws don't apply when the patient in question willingly decides to discuss the case publicly himself. The maneuver by the Browns was a bullying, mean-spirited tactic meant as retribution against a player who would dare to speak ill of the "organization".
In the bigger picture, we are starting to see an epidemic of MRSA-related infections in NFL players, especially those in the immediate post-operative period. Recently in the news, there have been stories about staph infections following operations on Peyton Manning and Tom Brady. It isn't just the Cleveland Clinic. And I'm not surprised. From my lowly perch as a general surgeon, I see almost exclusively MRSA related soft tissue infections. Even in community acquired boils/abscesses, it's rare to see one that isn't caused by MRSA. I don't even bother writing for Keflex anymore; doxycycline or bactrim is the choice for presumed staph. Years of inappropriate antibiotic use has led us to the brink of this new epidemic. And there's no better milieu for the rapid spread of a contagious organism than the locker room/weight room setting. It will be interesting to see what measures are implemented to reduce future occurences in the NFL. MRSA is here to stay, however. Secrecy and misinformation campaigns are ill advised coping mechanisms for an issue that will only become more prominent in the days ahead, and can only serve to further alienate athletes from the monolithic organizations that employ them....
Update from 10/25: The Browns have announced that the fine/suspension has been rescinded. Apparently, the Winslow camp presented evidence to the Browns in the form of a text message from a Browns PR representative instructing him to "keep quiet" about the MRSA aspects of his hospitalization... Or maybe Phil Savage just read this post and realized his mistake.