There are plenty of indications that both the use of painkillers and the pressure to get players back on the field have not gone away. Six weeks ago, for instance, in the first half of a game against San Francisco, New England Patriot quarterback Drew Bledsoe suffered a severe separation of his right shoulder. Even though the injury was serious enough that it would cause him to miss the next game, Bledsoe sat out only one series and played the rest of the game in obvious pain. When the press asked Patriot coach Bill Parcells why he had left Bledsoe in the game, Parcells's answer was simple: "He was well enough to finish the game." The Patriots' team doctor, Bert Zarins, did not return SI's calls, but as Steinberg, Bledsoe's agent, later said, "To take a 23-year-old quarterback who has been defined as the franchise and put him in a helpless circumstance doesn't make much sense."
Huizenga, the former Raider physician, believes that the use of painkillers and the incessant pressure on players to play—pressure that the team doctor, as much as the coach, often applies—still pervade the NFL. He saw it firsthand during the time he was with the Raiders, between 1983 and '89, and it led him not only to sever his relationship with the team but also to write an exposé, You're Okay, It's Just a Bruise. The book is a catalog of medical horrors: defensive lineman Howie Long complaining of electric jolts of pain up and down his legs—only to be told by the lead team physician, Robert Rosenfeld, that it was just a bruise and that he shouldn't worry about it; free safety Mike Harden being "cleared" to continue playing in a game in which he had a "quadriplegic episode"; linebacker Jerry Robinson being given cortisone pills to treat a severe concussion, a treatment that hadn't been widely prescribed since World War II. And hanging over it all is the looming specter of Raider boss Al Davis, forever pushing Rosenfeld—and Huizenga—to get his players back on the field for the next week's game.
No episode, though, in the sordid medical history of the Raider franchise can approach the tragedy of Curt Marsh, a guard for the team from 1981 to '86. After years of playing with an injury to his right ankle that was repeatedly misdiagnosed, Marsh was forced last year to have his right leg amputated eight inches below the knee (SI, Nov. 14, 1994).
After Huizenga's book was published last year, Davis asked Oakland's team trainer, who had been with the Raiders for more than 30 years, to publicly denounce the book. When he refused, Davis fired him.
There is one other troubling development: Teams have recently begun to put the role of team doctor up for bid, giving it to whichever clinic or group is willing to put up the most money (box, page 84). "It's outrageous," says Harrington, the San Francisco orthopedist. Adds Huizenga, "There were always rumors of doctors paying the team to be the doctor. Now it's accepted practice."
Mr. SHAPIRO: Mr. Barrett, when you discovered in October 1989 that you no longer had an anterior cruciate ligament, did you call Dr. Pappas?
Mr. BARRETT: Yes
Mr. SHAPIRO: What did you say to him?
Mr. BARRETT: I said, 'Have you talked to Dr. Steadman? He told me I had a torn ACL. Why didn't you tell me that?'
Mr. SHAPIRO: And how did Dr. Pappas respond?