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James Padilla: TU Dean Spearheads

Fall/Winter 2014

Health and Safety of Athletes of all Ages

Athletes tend to think of themselves as invincible. Traditionally, it’s not uncommon to see an injured player willing to “play through the pain” in order to put a victory in the record book. But history and technology have proven that some “pain” can have debilitating repercussions that sometimes affects an athlete months, or even years, after the initial injury, particularly if that athlete is returned to action too soon.

James Padilla, Dean of the School of Business and Associate Professor of Business Law and Sport Management at Tiffin University, is aware of the danger associated with athletic injuries. That’s why he’s spearheading E3, a program designed to better the experience of athletes by making the “shake it off” mentality a thing of the past.

E3 stands for engagement, education and empowerment and is devoted to protecting the health and lives of athletes of all ages through the intersection of education, patient safety principles and healthy living.

In a world where winning and money can overshadow the well-being of an athlete, E3’s focus on the full gamut of the individual’s health and safety is a groundbreaking concept.

“When an athlete is diagnosed with any type of injury, that athlete is essentially a patient at that point. Within the culture of sport, there is a complete rejection of that thought. That’s partly because becoming a patient means the authority to determine return to play and ability to play is now dictated by somebody outside the sport realm. It’s not dictated by a coach,” Padilla explains. “However, if the athlete is under the direction of a physician, I think you’ll see a reduction in recurrent injuries. But it will also increase missed playing time.”

The idea is to allow injured athletes the proper time to heal before returning to the sport. To some people, that may seem like a no-brainer. To others, sidelining a star athlete invokes more than a few cringes. But recurrent injuries — particularly head injuries such as concussions among football players — have been a major problem for years. Some have resulted in an increase in dementia and even death.

“The most important thing should be the care and concern for the athlete,” Padilla says. “In addition, the impact we can make in the sports industry has the ability to draw the overall improvement of healthcare more to the forefront.”

E3 will be based at Tiffin University. According to Padilla, “We will put on conferences to raise awareness. We also will promote speaking engagements with our founders, to make ourselves accessible nationwide to tell the story about our mission. E3 will look to partner with outside organizations such as the NFL Players Association, the NCAA, and traditional patient safety groups.

The organization has an impressive group of founders. Padilla is joined by former Cleveland Browns all-star center, LeCharles Bentley, who suffered a career-ending staph infection in 2006. Joe Borich, Director of the Annual Fund at TU, has a personal stake in E3, after an autopsy showed his brother, Mike — a successful college athlete and professional coach — suffered from Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy, a degenerative brain disease found primarily among professional athletes, and James Hall, the Associate Athletic Director, Sport Administrator and Student Development at New Mexico State University rounds out the group. Padilla became an advocate for patient safety after his 6-year-old son died as a result of a medical error following a successful surgery.

At this point, Padilla realizes changes in the sports world won’t occur overnight.

“I envision E3 to be driven by athletes, ex-athletes, retired athletes as well as coaches — anyone who wants to drive the rethinking of what we should be concerned about in terms of the health and safety of athletes of all ages,” he explains. “Educating parents, kids and coaches has to be done at the youngest levels so, hopefully, they’ll carry that mentality forward. But we also have to go after the higher levels because they get the most media attention.”

“There’s a lot at risk here, and quite frankly, insurance claims may go up,” he adds. “But people have to realize that’s OK, because for the athlete, you have to do what is right.”