So what do Tiger Woods's ill-fated encounter with a hydrant and the Toronto Argonauts have in common? Answer: Dr. Tony Galea, until last week the Argos' team physician - and also the man who says he treated Woods's surgically repaired knee last year with something called platelet-rich plasma (PRP) therapy.
When the media world went on Tiger Alert last November, any news about Woods became golden. So imagine the delight in newsrooms when it turned out that the Toronto-based Dr. Galea had treated the golfer and now was linked to allegations about human growth hormone and PRP, a new treatment method for healing injuries. Epic! as the tweeters say.
(Dr. Galea is currently facing four charges in Canada related to the drug known as Actovegin, which is not approved for sale in Canada, but which doctors can prescribe it if they inform patients about what it. He's also under investigation in the United States but has not been charged as yet.)
The feeding frenzy that resulted from wedding Dr. Galea's legal troubles to Woods's marital troubles was impressive. The major U.S. TV networks even staffed a December press conference in Toronto by Galea's lawyer, Brian Greenspan, seeking a link between Woods and performance-enhancing drugs (PED). ("If you're here to ask about Tiger Woods, that's not really the story today," Greenspan told the reporters.)
It only became more fevered as Dr. Galea - now dubbed Woods' "tainted" doctor in media reports - was found to have treated superstar baseball players Alex Rodriguez, Carlos Beltran and Jose Reyes, who are conveniently employed in the communications hub of New York City.
In Canada, Dr. Galea was not only the Argos team doctor but had also treated Olympic gold medalist Donovan Bailey (post-career), Olympic skater Patrick Chan and many other high-profile sports figures. Until Dr. Galea's assistant was found with some mislabeled vials of drugs at the U.S. border, he was the go-to guy for many top athletes in this country.
In the anti-drug media hysteria following confessions of steroid use from Rodriguez, Andy Pettitte, Jason Giambi and others, it was easy to put Dr. Galea's fondness for HGH (he admits using it himself) together with some big-name athletes and get a bracing whiff of scandal. Season it with the PRP treatment labelled by a British tabloid as Dracula Therapy ("anti-aging craze involves injecting your face with your own blood") and you have a Roger Corman movie.
It certainly has caught the attention of several major federal agencies in the United States. The prospect of a high-profile case can make a career - the way it did for BALCO investigator Jeff Novitzky - and keep the budget replenished in times of government austerity. For media types who saw how Mark Fainaru-Wada and Lance Williams defrocked Barry Bonds, can anyone say Pulitzer Prize?
So is this BALCO redux? Jamie Astaphan Part Deux? Or just another symptom of sports sprinting desperately to catch up to conventional treatments in the general public?
Dr. Galea will address any legal questions about HGH, Actovegin and operating without a proper license in court. But media attempts to paint him as a freak because he spins calves' blood in centrifuges in some Transylvanian castle are misleading. Outlets such as the New York Daily News frequently describe PRP as a "controversial" therapy. Even as they quote Dr. Lewis Maharam, past president of the Greater New York Chapter of the American College of Sports Medicine, as saying "It's well-established in the sports medicine community to do this."
"The Steelers' team physicians have done it with Hines Ward. The team physicians for the Giants have done it. I've done it on my patients. People at NYU have done it. It's all over the country. I call it almost a magic bullet in sports medicine equivalent to when we first got MRI." The New York Times reported approvingly last February, "Experts in sports medicine say that if the technique's early promise is fulfilled, it could eventually improve the treatment of stubborn injuries like tennis elbow and knee tendinitis for athletes of all types."
Even those who cite the absence of peer testing are anxious to see the results. "In the next six months to a year, we should really start seeing results from many clinical trials," Dennis A. Cardone, a doctor of osteopathic medicine at the New York University told Scientific American. "... and hopefully good ones, ranging in everything from rotator cuff problems [in the shoulder]to tennis elbow to Achilles and patellar tendonitis... There are a number of patients that haven't noticed much response, and then there's a good number that have done well. I think that's why we continue [to use it]"
Which leads blogger Ted Berg to conclude, "... the [PRP]treatment was apparently not controversial until it involved a slew of favourite N.Y. media whipping boys, and since several of the reports specify that the treatment is 'legal' or 'not illegal' - implying that its legality should be even in question - it strikes me that more than just blood is being spun."
In Canada, where Dr. Galea had established a considerable reputation, the media reaction to PRP has been more muted. Bailey feels that Dr. Galea has "been crucified" by some media. "He's a forward-thinking guy in the field, and that threatens some people," Bailey says.
For now, many feel that the biggest implication of the Dr. Galea story might be athletes perjuring themselves in testimony. Based on the examples of Rafael Palmiero, Rodriguez and others, they'll be found out soon enough. And the pain of that 'gotcha' is a lot worse than the pain from any injury requiring PRP.
Just when we were getting all excited about curling-as-cutting-edge, along comes ESPN's Beano Cook to give us the old double-raised takeout. "Look, Scotland's a great country," he told ESPN. "They gave us Scotch, but they also gave us curling. It just doesn't make sense. Every time I see those people doing that [picture old guy pretending to sweep]in the curling with the stones with the 45-pound stones, I don't understand reality TV. I understand Mary Tyler Moore and Archie Bunker. But not reality television. Or curling." Clear?