Buddy's Blog—Dr. Pete’s Analysis: If You Have To Be In This Crisis, UF’s Environment Is a Good Place

Updated: Jul 24, 2020

Dr. Pete Indelicato roams the Florida sidelines.
I don't have a crystal ball, but I am a little concerned, to be honest with you, whether we will have any kind of a football season this fall. I hope we do. Obviously. I love the sport…

Back in the day when “getting your bell rung” was common and concussion protocol meant having the team physician take your helmet away if your eyes were dilated, probably the biggest medical nemesis for Dr. Pete Indelicato was serious knee injuries.

My how all of that has changed. Now it’s more about possible life and death.

He no longer roams the Florida Gator sidelines as head team physician, but “Dr. Pete” is still on the field, very much plugged in as an “emeritus” team doctor and UF professor, where he sees and hears everything. And this Covid-19 crisis is nothing like he’s ever experienced in 35 years.

“These are new times,” said Dr. Indelicato. “You know, we don't have a lot of experience or history to fall back on to teach us how to manage these things. So we're sort of groping along step by step. It's a difficult situation.”

What he’s seeing and hearing regarding the future of college football is not terribly encouraging.

However, Dr. Pete does feel confident that University of Florida athletes are well-cared for by UF Health physicians and trainers and will continue getting tip-top health care. In fact, so much so that he doubles down on it because he feels the quality of the health care system could almost be added to the list of recruiting plusses for Florida.

“I think it's huge when we have an entire health system,” said Dr. Pete. “We're on the same campus as the athletic program. We’re blessed like that, whether other SEC based health systems are or not. We’re not 50 miles from the undergraduates and the athletic program. That's a big advantage for Florida.”

Top Ten in football. Top Ten in public education. First-rate health care for athletes. That’s a pretty good recruiting poster—one likely to impress parents.

Understanding it and forecasting what’s going to occur? Well, that’s for fortune tellers and mediums. Like the rest of us, Indelicato is constantly looking for new information on the Covid-19 crisis, but has to navigate through the toxic diatribe.

“I try to read unpoliticized information,” he said, but he remains “cautiously optimistic” about a vaccine in the coming months.

Not so much convinced about having a real football season, he says, but he remains hopeful.

“I don't have a crystal ball, but I am a little concerned, to be honest with you, whether we will have any kind of a football season this fall. I hope we do. Obviously. I love the sport. And all my falls have been devoted to Gator football for 40 plus years. But I'm a little skeptical and a lot of it's going to be based on the science that day. The decision has to be made and they are delaying that decision to try and get as much accurate information in front of them before they make it. The latest news, updated data, the opportunity for question.”

Dr. Indelicato, recently named to his professional society’s Hall of Fame (American Orthopedic Society for Medicine), says nothing can ever permanently eradicate the virus.

“But how good do we have to be in order to allow the athletes to play the game? Are we trying to create a virus-free environment? Because if we are, if that's the goal, then I don't think there's never a chance in hell of that and ever playing.

“So what's an acceptable amount of infectivity for allowing the game to proceed? Do we have it in mind? And this is just me talking. If these athletes were not under the protocols, if there was no sports, and they were just doing whatever other college athletes do, what would be the percent of people rhat tested positive?

“OK. Let's just say it's eight percent. All right. So if we can allow him to play football and keep the infectivity rate at eight percent, the same as if there was no sport, is that good enough?

“That's the question I keep asking. Different for different people. It's a great question.”

Though he’s not an epidemiologist, Dr. Indelicato is an invaluable resource for team physicians, having served 35 years as Florida team physician, during which he also was team doctor for the Miami Dolphins for 20 years ago—and before that the New York Giants. He’s still passionate about medicine. That’s why he gives back by serving on the board of AOSSM.org. The website is free to all coaches and parents who want to learn about caring for athletes. And it’s a different kind of medicine.

“When Aunt Mary sprained her ankle, you treat that very differently than when your starting quarterback sprains an ankle,” said Indelicato. “So you understand that there's a different protocol for the same injury, depending on who you are, how you are managing it. So you're not treating the quarterback's ankle sprain like Aunt Mary's.

“And the coach has to understand that while you're dying to get that athlete back as quickly, but do it as safely as possible. And he has to sign off on that type of philosophy. Otherwise, you're going to meet some strong headwinds trying to be a team physician when the coach does not accept that.”

Dr. Pete, pictured here behind Urban Meyer, served as the Florida team doctor for decades.

It is during this pause in action that Dr. Pete is reaching out to those high schools, already financially stressed, that are trying to manage health care of players. Most colleges are having problems financing trainers and a team doctor—let alone high schools. Sometimes, he says, one team physician will have to care for both teams at games between small high schools.

“And now coaches are taking courses to learn how to recognize things like concussions,” said Dr. Pete. “Like first-responders.”

Indelicato was on a 3.5 hour Zoom call this week (AOSSM.org) talking about how to deal with injuries in medicine and illness. The vast majority of people on that Zoom conference call was orthopedic surgeons that are just the beginning their career in sports medicine.

“And I shared with them my experiences in terms of the biggest mistakes to avoid starting off as a team physician and but some of the keys to succeed again, starting off as a team physician.”

Among the things he shared was the necessity for young trainers and doctors realizing what kind of pressure to expect and reminding themselves of their proper role.

“Probably the biggest mistake you make,” he told them, “is to not realize how much pressure you are under as a team physician. Where what’s good for the team, in terms of an athlete's health, may not be particularly good for the athlete. And how critically paramount it is that your job there is to protect the athlete and not worry about -- I'm doing this in quotes now – ‘wins and losses.’ You’re not a coach. You know, parents and coaches, uncles and aunts and guardians, that they want their athlete to play.”

Still feeling youthful and continuing to walk and exercise regularly, Dr. Indelicato also must be cautious about his own health.

“I'm laying low as a lot of people in my age bracket are,” said the 75-year-old physician. “I'm trying to avoid crowds. I'm also trying to get out and exercise. I play golf a couple of times a week. I do some significant walking. So personally, I'm doing pretty well as far as the Covid issue and organized sports.”

Dr. Pete knows it’s going to be a long road to recovery. It’s also going be a tough task for coaches trying to sort out the athletes’ environment.

“Of course, they have still mingle with the student body. I mean, if there's no Super Bowl, there's no football within the student body. Who knows what their life activity rate is going to be? So it's just about impossible demands that as a coach you've got to be able to manage.”

It’s a major challenge for all physicians, even the elite minds of sports medicine, for coaches, parents, players—and for that matter, the entire world.

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