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Vail Symposium: Ups and downs of sports medicine

Charlie Owen
Vail CO, Colorado
AE Jordan Metzl SM 1-1-08
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EAGLE COUNTY, Colorado ” Unless you’re Barry Bonds, you may be asking yourself “Why do I care if athletes take steroids?”

To Dr. Jordan Metzl, renowned champion of sports medicine, the answer to that question is more complex and far-reaching than most would care to acknowledge.

“There is a long history of people looking to improve their performance by whatever means necessary, to compete at a higher level than those that are competing with them,” Metzl said.

Tonight Metzl will be speaking about this topic as well as youth sports and staying fit into old age during a presentation for the Vail Symposium titled “The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly: Sports Medicine Today.”

Metzl is taking time out from his practice at the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York to do some skiing in Vail and give his explanation to the Symposium audience on how these three issues relate to one another, and the positive and negative roles they play in society.

According to Metzl, the use of performance-enhancing drugs is nothing new, dating back to the first Olympics in ancient Greece when several competitors were ejected from the games for injecting animal proteins. The only things that have changed are the advancement of newer drugs and easier access to them, Metzl said.

Just one hour of watching the news will reveal that using unnatural methods to get ahead in sports hasn’t abated at all. In fact, it would be fitting to say that in some circles it has only gotten worse.

With the release of the Mitchell Report ” the results of an independent study by former Sen. George Mitchell that revealed steroid use in the Major League Baseball Association and listed recommendations on drug testing policies in the organization ” it has become common knowledge that many professional athletes find it necessary to gain an advantage over their competition by illegal means.

Metzl calls this a human desire, but doesn’t condone the behavior, saying it not only causes long-term health problems for the athlete but it sends the wrong message to kids who look up to professional athletes as role models.

“I think you could make the argument that across the board, what professional athletes do is emulated by kids,” Metzl said. He recalled the height of Michael Jordan’s career, when it seemed like every kid in the country wore Air Jordans, a shoe specifically designed for the star basketball player.

Although steroid use is a crucial issue for professional sports, it’s not a black-and-white one, Metzl said. There are many gray areas such as the booming market of health supplements that still haven’t been tested or approved by the Food and Drug Administration, but are readily and legally available to athletes of almost any age.

“I think that’s why we kind of have to think as a society ‘How do we want to deal with some of these issues?'” Metzl said, describing the problem as both a health and moral one.

But for all of the negativity that has come from the link between performance- enhancing drugs and professional sports, there is still much to be gained from the dialogue the topic has sparked.

“I think it’s actually really healthy what’s happening now,” Metzl said. “I think it was a long time in coming and I think that the climate definitely seems to be changing. I think we are approaching a tipping point where athletes are going to think very carefully about what they put in their bodies.”

Another concern Metzl has is the emergence of youth sports programs that focus on only one sport year round in hopes of grooming kids for success as professional athletes.

The growth of youth sports programs in America is a very good thing, but it’s not without its downsides, Metzl said.

Having written two books about kids and athletics (“The Young Athlete: A Sports Doctor’s Complete Guide for Parents,” “Sports Medicine in the Pediatric Office”), Metzl is no slouch in the field. He fears that pushing kids too hard to perform in sports can lead to disastrous consequences.

“I think it does play into the first topic we’re discussing (performance-enhancing drugs), because when winning becomes the only focus for being involved in a sport, it leads to a mindset where people will do whatever it takes to win.”

His answer to the problem sounds like common sense: “I think it’s dialogue, I think it’s recognizing why people are involved in athletics. Every parent thinks their kid is going to be the next superstar (of) Major League Baseball or the NBA or whatever, when the truth of the matter is it’s such a small percentage of kids that end up playing even college-level sports.”

Instead, Metzl encourages finding a balance between school, athletics and family.

Metzl will also speak about the advancements that have been made in caring for children’s injuries and how they differ from adults’ injuries and vary between the sexes.

Taking his presentation full circle, Metzl will talk about how adults can stay healthy and active into older age as his final topic of discussion.

He will review some of the advances in sports medicine for older athletes such as joint supplements and how to exercise properly to avoid injury.

Having ran 26 marathons and participated in five triathlons, Metzl is no stranger to practicing what he preaches. He stays very active himself, which helps him in his academic studies and gives him confidence when dispensing advice to his patients.

“I think it’s important for people involved in sports medicine to be good role models athletically for their patients,” Metzl said.

High Life writer Charlie Owen can be reached at 748-2939 or cowen@vaildaily.com.


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