Dwight Stones was a world record holder and Olympic medalist in the high jump. He was insisting that his personal medical person, Dr Leroy Perry, be given access and freedom to treat him at the Olympic Trials and elsewhere. His medical person was a “chiropractor”. At that time most of us did not even know what a “chiropractor” was. Those in the orthodox medical field considered them “quacks”. Needless to say, Dwight met with a great deal of resistance and Dr Perry with more than his share of suspicion and  ridicule. My own feeling was that the ultimate decision should as much as possible rest with what the medal athletes wanted,…..since they were the source of funding, exposure and growth for the sport. Further mature and sensible athletes like Dwight knew his body better than any federation official. As the chair of one of the federation’s development committees, I supported Dwight and recruited some others, made a big stink, resulting in a limited inclusion of Dr Perry. This all took place approximately 35 years ago.

At the Olympic Trial of 2012, once you entered the athletes’ gate, the things you were most impressed and confronted with, were the two big tents for the “medical support” personnel. There was one tent with medical people provided by the meet organizers, and then there was another, equally large tent, for more or less those “medical” people who were credentialed as “personal medical” for athletes. For the better part of 9 days I spent upwards of 5-7 hours a day under the tents, watching and observing all of the attention being provided and given to athletes. What I saw more or less confirmed my growing suspicion that we had allowed the inmates to take over the asylum. Some elite athletes were literally going from table to table, station to station, to get “treatment” and “therapy”. In some instances the practitioners were squabbling over who was going to see whom first and for how long. The foxes were literally welcomed into the hen house. It is my deeply felt conviction that there are too many of these people with access to elite athletes with their  “magical medical modalities” and overreaching claims of benefits and healing. What started out as a suspicion,  over the years has morphed into a full grown personal conviction that I have seen more scamming and huckstering at these major track and field events, than takes place at cheap carnivals.

The realization and appreciation of the above has developed in stages, accelerating within the past couple of quadrenniums. There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that Dwight was right. Chiropractic has distinct and measurable benefits for athletes that actually need that kind of attention. The problem comes when there is indiscriminate use by athletes and additionally indiscriminate,..and often incorrect,…. claims by the practitioners. Chiropractic, like all other healing arts and sciences, is limited in its benefits based upon what the patient’s affliction and needs happens to be, and whether or not the form of  application ad/or practice addresses the specific needs of that athlete. Not all chiropractic, or it derivatives, are the same. Each doctor, more or less, has a personal view of the body, how it works, and how their specialty is best exploited. If what the athlete’s issue happens to be, falls within the expertise and experience of the doctor, then it is reasonable to expect some benefit. If the practice does not fit the the ailment, then we have a significant  waste of time and money,……both very dear to most track and field athletes. I use the analogy of a very expensive and superior camera. If the subject matter that I am seeking to capture falls within the lens and focus of the camera, then I have a very good chance of getting an outstanding result. However,…….if the subject matter in question is outside the lens and focus of the camera, — no matter what the claims of camera might be,– no matter how good the camera happens to be,–no matter how expert the photographer may be,….. I am NOT going to get the result I am seeking. I may get a very good image or picture of something else, but the sought after subject matter is still not properly and effectively addressed.

Over the years I have seen ever increasing reckless claims by the “medical”  and massage people. As their numbers have increased, the competition between them has gotten more intense. In order to compete, the claims have become more outlandish. I recall being at a recent IAAF World Championships when a massage therapist and I entered into the following exchange:

Hey,…. I got 19 medals at this meet !

Really ? What country are you ? How many of them did you coach ?

I worked on 19 people that got medals.

How many workouts did you design or supervise ?

Look, 19 people that got medals were on my table. Most  of them more than once. I busted my ass getting them ready !

Are you saying they would NOT have gotten the medals without you ?

What I am saying is I got 19 people ready to get medals !

At the 2011 IAAF World Championships in Daegu, South Korea an athlete I was coaching was accosted by a massage therapist chastising him for,” Not coming by for treatment.”. It was if he had missed a command appearance and had committed a deadly sin of some sort. After I rudely dispatched him,  I asked the athlete how he felt, he said he was fine, but clearly did not need that kind of accosting before his race.  . The same athlete was later followed onto the warm up area by a doctor who was taking pictures of him stretching to put on his office wall so he could boast that he worked on a Jamaican athletes. The following exchange too place between the doctor and me:

Hey doc, you guys are not supposed to be out here.

I am only taking pictures and helping him stretch.

Doc, he has been stretching without your help for almost 10 years. He doesn’t need you now. And you are supposed to be with all the other medical people under the tent provided for you guys.

Why are you hassling me ?

What ? Look,….. get your sick ass over to the medical tent or I am going to ask USATF to pull your credential !

Why are you so upset ?

If you have to ask that question, then you do not “get it”. But what you will get,.. is you will GET the hell out of here and let us do what we are here for !

In the dinning area of our housing complex, after eating, there was a food tray and leftover food disposal area that was located just before the doors that lead to the outside or back up to the rooms. The athletes had to pass this way on the way to wherever they were going. That very same doctor would strategically station himself near this disposal area offering his special “medical” practice any and  all he felt might be receptive.

What has been outlined above represents some of the most extreme cases of abuse and unhealthy intrusion, however, as the numbers escalate up, the outrages will simply get to be more outrageous because the competition for clients will get more intense. On the other hand, athletes seem to have little or no serious issue with all this attention and some actively seek out as many of these people as they can get in before a race. The new ones on the circuit have never had this kind of in-depth attention payed to them at their colleges and universities where massages and such are not encouraged because of the sheer numbers of athletes involved. For many this is just another perk of “going pro”, and they relish and welcome it. For me there is a conflict between what I consider professional conduct and decorum and the snake pit we may end up having on our hands as these people get more extreme and empowered.

There is a companion piece to this. Perhaps later this week.

Brooks T. Johnson

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