The Times West Virginian

December 8, 2013

HERTZEL COLUMN: There are no sick days for athletes

By Bob Hertzel
For the Times West Virginian

MORGANTOWN — So you wake up on a Monday morning and it’s cold outside; a couple of inches of snow have fallen. That’s bad enough, but then as you roll out of bed and put your feet on the cold floor, you realize you head is aching and your back hurts and you’ve got the sniffles and then …


A cold? The flu? Those blankets were awfully warm and you really don’t feel well enough to go to work, so back to bed you go.

Fine. But what if you’re an athlete? What if there’s a practice that day, or worse yet, a game? What if 15,000 fans and your teammates are counting on you, be you a backup or a superstar on a college team or a professional team?

How is that handled?

We decided we’d check with Randy Meador, the men’s basketball trainer at West Virginia University and coordinator of athletic training at the school.

Meador has served 28 seasons as West Virginia’s head basketball athletic trainer, so he has an idea of what he’s doing.

When most people think of team trainers, they think of sprains and breaks and muscle pulls, but their job goes further than that when it comes to illness and keeping players healthy.

“We are educated. We deal with a lot of things. You have to be able to recognize MRSA, appendicitis, mononucleosis. There’s several things that affect their performance or whether they are able to compete or perform,” he said.

“We have general medical education. It’s not like medical school, but we have to recognize the difference between stomach cramps and appendicitis, the difference between a cut, a spider bite and MRSA. We’ve had mononucleosis … you can’t have an enlarged spleen and do a contact sport.”

If they do recognize any of these types of problems, they refer them to Dr. Michael Lively, the team doctor.

But what of the player that comes in with aches and pains, a fever, a headache?

It happens a lot.

“My goodness,” Meador says, “You’ve got 30,000 students on campus. You are going to get sick.”

And it isn’t just that.

“Weather change,” Meador said. “We went from Cancun to Morgantown last week, to 20 degrees and a low wind-chill factor. It takes a toll on the body.”

They are ready for most of it.

“I have a good supply of over-the-counter medication, just like any mom or dad. I have a good supply of Tylenol and antihistamines, allergy medication, etc., etc.,” he said.

In truth, in many ways, Meador is like a mom and dad, in more ways than you can imagine.

“Some of the coaches need parenting from time to time,” he cracked, with a laugh.

What they do with something like the flu is treat with OTCs for two or three days, and if there is no improvement, refer the athlete to Dr. Lively.

“He also has a rule if they have a 101 fever or above they are out. Below that, they are able to participate. We have guidance and rules in those areas to make sure we are doing things right,” Meador said.

Meador says while he’s had athletic injuries or infections keep players from playing a game, but he couldn’t think of any with just the flu.

“I remember Jay Hewitt had appendicitis and missed a couple of games,” he said. “Dr. Lively has prescription to help if it’s like a stomach virus.”

Players want to play, though.

“Michael Jordan played in a playoff game with the flu. You know, whenever you have a hero, a coach can always use that to motivate,” he said.

And certainly Michael Jordan is a hero who played with the flu in what now has come to be known as “The Flu Game.”

This was the way it was described in Sports Illustrated once:

He remembers waking up in the middle of the night, sweating profusely, shaking, and feeling as if he was going to die. “I was scared; I didn’t know what was happening to me,” Michael Jordan would say.

At first, he thought it was a nightmare. Then he realized it was real, that he was seriously ill. “I felt partially paralyzed,” he would later say.

When he lifted himself up from his bed in his Utah hotel room, his head began spinning. He’d never been so nauseated before. He feared that somehow, some way, someone had slipped some kind of drug in something he ate.”

Jordan remained in bed for 24 hours, lost several pounds, was dehydrated, but got out of bed and played, quite badly at first as Utah took a 16-point lead over his Chicago Bulls.

But something happened in the second quarter. He scored 17 points.

“It was all about desire,” he would say. “Somehow I found the energy to stay strong.”

In the end he hit a 3-point shot to break an 85-85 tie in the final half minute and the Bulls win.

Jordan finishes, collapsed on the floor with exhaustion, but with 36 points and a victory.

Follow Bob Hertzel on Twitter @bhertzel.