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ACSM: Take it out of receiver's hands

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Terrell Owens's doctor isn't the only one opposed to the Philadelphia Eagles' wide receiver ignoring medical advice and taking the field Sunday night in Super Bowl XXXIX.

Yesterday, the American College of Sports Medicine issued a blistering letter questioning Owens's decision and that of the Eagles, and reiterating the dangers of placing medical decisions in the hands of professional athletes or their teams.

"Professional athletes may be willing to play through the pain but that doesn't override a medical decision," said Dr. Stanley A. Herring, chairman of ACSM's task force on clinical sports medicine. "The ultimate decision about returning to play lies with the team physician."

Not, apparently, in Owens's case. Dr. Mark Myerson, the Baltimore-based orthopedic surgeon who inserted two metal screws in Owens's foot Dec. 22 -- three days after Owens broke his fibula and suffered a high ankle sprain against the Dallas Cowboys -- has refused to clear Owens to play. Myerson was overruled by the Eagles' medical staff, however. They cleared him to return to practice Tuesday, his first live action in 43 days.

Myerson issued a public statement opposing that decision and said he would not take responsibility for any injury Owens might suffer Sunday.

Eagles coach Andy Reid said this week he had been assured Owens would not reinjure his leg, and Eagles trainer Rick Burkholder said the risk was worth the reward while pointing out Owens had made a remarkably quick recovery from the surgery.

"He's a genetic freak," Burkholder said.

Perhaps so, but with such firm medical opposition, the ACSM believes there should be no question about Owens's status for Sunday.

According to the ACSM, "team physicians ultimately must assume responsibility within the team structure for making medical decisions that affect the athlete's safe participation." It goes on to say the decision should be "medically based and not subject to being overridden."

Dr. William O. Roberts, president of the 20,000-member ACSM, pointed out the great danger of decisions being made by non-medical staff on athletic injuries because the needs of the moment can easily blind a competitive athlete such as Owens, or his team, to long-term risks.

Owens's doctors had said at the time of the injury that if he tried to play with the screws and the plate put in his leg and was reinjured, he could suffer debilitating arthritis and other complications.

For Owens, these are risks he's willing to take to play in the biggest game of his career. For the Eagles, he is their leading offensive threat and the player who seems to have separated them from the struggling pass offense they had the past few years once they got into the playoffs. All those considerations, Roberts contends, can easily lead to an ill-conceived choice if the medical staff is not allowed to make the final decision.

"What is needed is a sharp and dominant focus on the athlete's health and safety, both short and long term," said Roberts. "Otherwise there is just too much pressure and passion to get a valuable player back on the field." That would appear to be the case with Owens.

"Just watch," Owens said Tuesday. "Eagle 81 will be on the field and I will play. I'm looking forward to scoring that 15th touchdown [of the season] because he's going to get into those tights [a reference to a bet he made with the portly Reid, who agreed to wear a pair of extra large spandex tights like Owens's if the wide receiver scored 15 touchdowns this season]. If you think I'm going to be a decoy, good luck." Owens went on to say "I respect Dr. Myerson's position in not medically clearing me, but I know my body better than anybody."

He better hope he does.

Nice gesture

Thanks to the Cleveland Browns, Michael Berninger, a Martha's Vineyard, Mass., native and a corporal in the United States Marine Corps, will attend Sunday's Super Bowl to root on his favorite team along with 49 other Marines who have either recently arrived home from Iraq or will soon be shipped there.

The Browns donated 50 Super Bowl tickets as part of their "Hats off to Heroes" program. Berninger was wounded in Iraq and was quoted in a press release issued by the Browns that he had never attended either a pro or college football game.

"I was shocked for about an hour," Sgt. Brian Goff, of Centralia, Okla., said after learning he had been selected. He, too, had never been to an NFL game. Goff won the bronze star during the original assault on Baghdad. He will soon return for a 14-month tour of duty in that war-torn country.

Dominating the action

According to, 67 percent of the Internet bets being made on the Super Bowl have been on the Patriots, but 79 percent of the money has been placed on New England.

Surprisingly, 72 percent of the bets, however, were not simply on New England to win. They were on the Patriots covering the over total of 47 1/2 points. is a Somerville-based company founded in 1997. It has agreements with four Internet betting sites to gather statistical information on how betting money is flowing. As of last night, 8,492 bets had been made on the game via the Internet, with more than two-thirds of them on the Patriots, who are 7-point favorites to win their third Super Bowl in the last four years. 

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