Franklin reiterates health and wellness of athletes is priority
Numerous former players have come to the defense of Penn State head football coach James Franklin since accusations he pressured a former team doctor of prematurely clearing injured players, but the law firm representing Dr. Scott A. Lynch released a statement Tuesday afternoon saying players may simply be unaware of the full story.
“Please understand that the issues which bring this dispute to the forefront involve communications which took place between Coach Franklin and Dr. Lynch and medical personnel under Dr. Lynch’s command; communications which athletes may not have had knowledge of, not fully appreciated,” read the statement by Lynch’s attorney, Steven F. Marino of Marino Associates in Philadelphia.
“This dispute does not involve the relationships which may have developed and communications which may have taken place between Coach Franklin and selected athletes.”
Lynch served as the director of athletic medicine until March 1, when he claimed in a lawsuit filed Aug. 23 he was let go in retaliation for reporting Franklin to several university leaders — among them AD Sandy Barbour, Senior Associate AD Charmelle Green and Athletic Integrity Monitor Robert Boland.
No specific instances of Franklin pressuring Lynch were mentioned in the 43-page complaint, and both Franklin and the university refuted the allegations last week. But Lynch said in the whistleblower lawsuit, filed in Dauphin County, that Franklin interfered with medical management and return-to-play decisions “on multiple and repeated occasions.”
Franklin briefly addressed the accusations last Tuesday.
“We’ll continue to defend our program and all its participants on the matter,” Franklin said during his weekly press conference, repeating part of Penn State Health’s earlier statement. “As always, the health and well-being of our student-athletes is of the utmost importance to us.”
Since the accusations, many players and their parents have taken to social media and other public avenues to express their trust in Franklin. Former tight end Adam Breneman, who lost much of his career to injuries, supported Franklin publicly last week and wrote, “Never once did he attempt to pressure me into playing or rush me back. He was adamant that I take as much time as I needed to get healthy.”
Former quarterback Trace McSorley, now with the Baltimore Ravens, said that he “never once felt pressured” to return injured. Even some of Franklin’s former Vanderbilt players, such as QB Austyn Carta-Samuels, who played until 2013, reiterated how Franklin kept him out of a big game due to injury “and chose to protect me.”
Neither Penn State nor the football program immediately responded to a request seeking comment. Marino Associates also did not immediately respond to a request seeking further comment but said in the aforementioned statement that Lynch would not be commenting publicly on the matter.
“Be advised that the attorneys and parties participating in ongoing litigation are not at liberty to make extrajudicial statements which may have a substantial likelihood of materially prejudicing the adjudicative proceeding,” Marino wrote. “As much as Dr. Lynch may want to further comment on the details of the facts that may support his claim, he is simply not permitted.”
Lynch served as the team’s orthopedic physician since 2013 and as the director of athletic medicine since 2014. Dr. Wayne Sebastianelli, who was the team doctor prior to 2013, resumed his previous duties once Lynch was let go.
According to the complaint, the university initially explained Lynch’s dismissal by saying the program preferred someone who lived in State College as opposed to Hershey, which is about a two-hour drive away. (Lynch has worked at the Penn State Health Milton S. Hershey Medical Center since 1997.)
Penn State Health released a statement last week rejecting Lynch’s claims.
“In February 2019, Penn State Health administrators decided to change leadership for athletic medicine and the delivery of care for Intercollegiate Athletics,” the statement read. “This transition was completed with the best interests of student-athletes in mind, given the increasing complexity and growing demands of sports medicine, as well as health care in general.
“While we reject Dr. Lynch’s claims and will vigorously defend our program and its representatives, we remain grateful to him for his five years as director of athletic medicine for Intercollegiate Athletics and for his continued association with Penn State Health.”
The No. 15 Nittany Lions will take on Buffalo at 7:30 p.m. Saturday at Beaver Stadium in a Week 2 matchup.