Is Sports Illustrated Report on Penn State Damning or Much Ado About Nothing?

Lisa HornePac-12 and Big 12 Lead WriterMay 17, 2013

Nov  26, 2011; Madison, WI, USA;  An Penn State Nittany Lions helmet sits on the field during warmups prior to the game against the Wisconsin Badgers at Camp Randall Stadium.  The Badgers defeated the Nittanty Lions 45-7.  Mandatory Credit: Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports
Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

A recent Sports Illustrated report has questioned the alleged decision by Penn State athletic director David Joyner to relieve Wayne Sebastianelli of his duties. Sebastianelli was the team's director of athletic medicine and orthopedic surgeon-head physician. 

Is this a big deal?

The report indicates that both former and current players are concerned about the school's health care program.

Instead of having an orthopedic surgeon who attends every practice, Penn State now employs a primary care physician in State College and an orthopedic consultant who commutes about two hours each way from Hershey, Pa., at least once a week.

Coach Bill O'Brien called the report a "character assassination," according to the The Philadelphia Inquirer:

"The players' health and safety is the No. 1 priority to me," O'Brien said. "For anyone to suggest, or perhaps outright accuse, that anyone within Penn State's athletic program would do otherwise is irresponsible, reckless, and wrong.

"We have a deep connection with our players. We are battling an uphill battle. We have 65 scholarships, 67 scholarships. Do you think for one second I would jeopardize the health and safety of this football team with 65 kids on scholarships? That's preposterous."

O'Brien said that a doctor will be present at every practice, and that an orthopedic surgeon, while not at practice every day, "will be there in the office, in the training room . . . they'll be around."

Politics appear to have played a part in this drama.

The SI report implies a contentious relationship between Joyner and Sebastianelli, saying that "there is a deep history and a rivalry between Joyner and Sebastianelli." Joyner is an orthopedic surgeon and "once wanted to work with the football team," the report states.

This could be just two egos clashing with inevitable fallout. Would a school under intense NCAA and media scrutiny put its football players' health and safety in jeopardy? Doubtful.

Could the players and alumni's concerns be nothing more than a sign of protest over change? Recent school history suggests exactly that

The Joe Paterno apologists are still out there. They refuse to believe that the face of Penn State football knowingly looked the other way while sexual assaults on young boys occurred. They're not changing their opinion of Paterno. Here's more from Scott Ostler of the San Francisco Chronicle:

Jay Paterno, Joe's son, calls the scandal a "very, very small chapter" of his father's career. Joe coached Penn State for 46 seasons. He ignored Jerry Sandusky for at least 14 years. That's nearly one-third of Paterno's Penn State career. As chapters go, that one is huge.

The school rallied to protest the dismissal of Paterno while the rest of the nation recoiled in horror over the allegations facing former assistant coach Jerry Sandusky. Many students rioted

Students also voluntarily guarded the statue of Paterno at Beaver Stadium after a plane with the banner, "Take the statue down or we will" flew over the campus last July. The statue was eventually taken down on July 22.

More angst ensued when Penn State changed its uniforms before its 2012 season opener with Ohio. O'Brien oversaw the addition of players' names on the jerseys as well as blue ribbons symbolizing the support for victims of child abuse. 

Keep in mind, 2011 saw some uniform tweaks that eliminated the contrasting trim on the jersey's neck and arm cuffs. Many fans complained that the changes made the uniforms too bland, as if they weren't before. After the 2012 uniform changes, fans appeared to voice their displeasure that they didn't represent the Penn State tradition of generic-looking uniforms. 

It's change that gets many Penn State alumni and fans' dander up.

Change is inevitable. But outrage over change can become the bigger story. As it has here, it appears.   Penn State issued a statement in response to the SI report:

Contrary to the reporter's assertions, Dr. Sebastianelli remains the doctor in charge of the University's entire medical program for intercollegiate athletics, including football. Further, there has been no change in the support provided by State College-based Penn State orthopedic surgeons, including Dr. Sebastianelli.

Much ado about nothing? Much ado about nothing.