It used to be that teams paid the doctors who treated their players. Now the doctors are beginning to pay the teams. And the sums can be considerable. Of the various trends in sports medicine, none is more ominous—for the players, at least—than this one.
The practice became known to the public earlier this year when ABC News reported that both the Carolina Panthers and the Jacksonville Jaguars, the two NFL expansion franchises, had let it be known that medical groups interested in providing care for the teams' players would be expected to purchase luxury boxes, pay for ads in game programs and donate supplies, such as tape, in return for the right to be called the team's "official health-care provider." Carolina says that it subsequently backed off this approach, but the group that won the bidding war in Jacksonville is said to have indirectly paid around $1 million for the privilege.
In fact, the Jaguars are merely embarking on a more brazen version of a well-established practice. The Jewett Orthopaedic Group, for instance, has supplied the team physicians for the Orlando Magic ever since that franchise began play, in 1989. During that time, Jewett has also been a "sponsor" of the team, providing all the things the Jaguars were demanding of prospective team doctors, including arena advertising (JEWETT ORTHOPAEDIC CLINIC/YOUR TEAM PHYSICIANS). Jay Pearce of Jewett makes no bones about why his group was willing to put up money to be the Magic team physicians. "In this market," he says, "there are a lot of orthopedic surgeons. A lot of them would be willing to be sponsors.... We want the world to know that we do take care of the team."