Editorial: Fans should give KU more credit for working to improve health of student-athletes
photo by: Journal-World Photo Illustration
The University of Kansas’ fall sports season is underway, which means the debates among fans have heated up. That is fine, as one of the purposes of sport is to give us something to argue about that isn’t of life-or-death consequences.
However, athletic competition — with the strain it puts on bodies — can have those types of stakes for participants. The KU athletic department deserves a bit more credit than it is getting these days for changes it has made to enhance the physical well-being of its student-athletes.
In May, KU became an innovator in the field of providing medical care to student-athletes. The university scrapped its old system of providing care in favor of a new partnership called Kansas Team Health. It is a three-party deal between the University of Kansas Health System, Lawrence-based LMH Health and Kansas Athletics.
Fans, for the most part, didn’t give the news much thought in May. Then, August came and a couple of high-profile strength and conditioning coaches departed from KU. First Murphy Grant, who at one time was KU’s head football trainer, left to join the staff at Wake Forest.
But the big event that got KU fans talking — or roaring in some instances — was the departure of Andrea Hudy, the longtime Kansas basketball strength and conditioning coach. She left to take a similar position at league rival Texas.
Fan speculation soon began that the new partnership of Kansas Team Health played a role in their departures. The two individuals haven’t gone into detail about why they chose to leave KU, which, of course, is their right. Both Grant and Hudy, though, were affected by the new partnership. They were among about 40 employees of Kansas Athletics who got new bosses. The medical and strength and conditioning staffs that had been employees of Kansas Athletics became employees of the new Kansas Team Health. Instead of reporting to athletic department executives, they instead were reporting to medical executives.
We should learn a bit more about Kansas Team Health before we give the initiative a gold star, and the Journal-World is working to do so. We’ve requested several documents from the athletic department that should shed light on how the partnership truly works and the finances behind it. We should get those soon and will report back.
But it is a little disappointing that some fans jumped to the conclusion that the partnership is bad simply because a couple of talented people have decided to move on. Such thinking discounts the underlying wisdom of this partnership.
Simply put, the idea of having trainers, strength coaches and others who are responsible for the health of student-athletes overseen by a medical organization rather than an athletic department is a good one. More bluntly put, there are some important reasons to create greater distance between the people who are focused on athlete health from the people who get paid based on the number of wins and losses the program produces. Anybody who doesn’t think judgment can become clouded in the pursuit of victories — at any level of competition — isn’t paying close enough attention.
Hopefully, KU leaders took this step as a proactive move rather than in response to trends they have seen within their department. The move shouldn’t be taken as a sign that coaches don’t care about the welfare of their student athletes. But, whatever the case, Athletic Director Jeff Long deserves credit for making this happen. It would have been easier to do nothing. If the chancellor, who is a medical doctor, played a role in this change, he also deserves credit.
The Lawrence community also should be pleased that LMH Health was included as a partner. As the primary health care provider in Lawrence, it certainly makes perfect sense for it to be a key player. Hopefully university leaders understand the importance of LMH in this community and don’t play games to give advantages to the KU Health System as competition in the hospital world heats up. If the details of this partnership show LMH is a true equal partner in this venture, that will be a positive sign.
Here is wishing all the student-athletes a prosperous season, but, more importantly, a safe one. As fans, we should all cheer a little harder when our university is taking steps to protect the health of young people.