MRSA And The NFL: Time To Start Preventive Measures

MRSA (Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus): caused by a particular type of staph bacteria that becomes resistant to many of the antibacterial medications used to treat regular staph infections. CA-MRSA (community assisted MRSA) affects a healthy population in the community such as child-care workers, those who live in crowded areas, and athletes. The CDC states that just 2% of the population carries the MRSA bacteria, but it is spread through skin-to-skin contact. Athletes that participate in contact sports are then susceptible because of open sores and cuts (The Mayo Clinic).

No, The Sports Fan Journal didn’t go all Health and Sciences Journal on you. Unfortunately, MRSA infections are menacingly connected to the NFL. New York Giants tight end Daniel Fells is the newest player to contract MRSA. His foot became infected with it two weeks ago, and according to ESPN, he has undergone at least five surgeries to remove the bacteria from his foot, including scraping the bacteria from the bone. He remains in the hospital with more surgeries to come. Fells’ doctors were concerned that amputating the infected foot was necessary, but as of Tuesday, they are optimistic that this new set of antibacterial treatment is working and that amputation may not be necessary any longer.

You have to wonder — if MRSA is spread through skin contact, how exactly did Fells contract it? Are any of his Giants teammates susceptible right now? It has to be looked into, considering the tight shared space. For example, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers have recently had more than one player contract the staph infection within a short period of time.

Ex-NFL kicker Lawrence Tynes sued the Bucs in April after getting infected with MRSA while with the Bucs in 2013. He was a nine-year veteran by the time he got to Tampa Bay but never got a chance to kick for the Buccaneers because he was diagnosed with the infection at the start of training camp. He, too, like Fells, underwent several surgeries on his toe to remove the bacteria and nearly had to amputate it. Tynes' issue with the Bucs was that he claimed they failed to diagnose him after repeated looks at the toe. He told ESPN that the infection worsened over that time and only was diagnosed and received treatment after seeing an outside physician.

I’m not a betting woman, but I’d certainly put money up banking on Tynes' claims to be true. Admitting the existence of the infection would be like admitting to unsanitary working conditions for their players. After all, he was not alone. Carl Nicks was a Pro Bowl tackle when he signed with the Bucs in 2012. A nagging toe injury sidelined him that season followed by surgery to remove the staph infection in 2013. He, too, was diagnosed in training camp and had to seek an outside doctor.

Unlike Tynes, who was 35 at the time of diagnosis, Nicks was five years into the league. He was one-third of a tremendous front line on the New Orleans Saints, starting all 16 games the year they won a Super Bowl. The reason he did not stay is that it basically came down to either him or Drew Brees — there was no way they both could get paid. The Saints said goodbye to Nicks, as Nicks said farewell to his career. Another Buccaneer, cornerback Johnthan Banks, also contracted the infection but never missed time from it. He probably caught it in time.

Stopping the spread of infection includes general hygiene duties such as hand-washing, covering open wounds and abrasions, and assuring the non-sharing of items like towels and athletic equipment. The NFL has top-notch training teams and equipment managers, so I was curious as to how feasible it is to maintain a clean environment not conducive to staph. One current NFL player explained to me that for the most part, everyone does his job to keep the players bacteria-free. Keeping wounds covered is an easy fix, according to him, although “sometimes machismo prevents guys from getting a bandage.” He did admit that trainers could do a better job of pushing the importance of them keeping wounds bandaged.

As far as cleanliness goes, he also praised the training staff and equipment managers. “They are quick to clean when there’s a risk. They do a good job of keeping trash and used towels away from high-traffic areas. Nothing equipment-wise is really shared so your diseases basically needs to be your own.”

Of course, this comes from his own experience in a locker room for a team that has had no reports of a staph infection occurrence. Infections may be individual because of personal hygiene and equipment, but when multiple outbreaks occur, as in the case of the Buccaneers, one must wonder just how clean they keep their facilities. The player I spoke to clearly has had years of a commendable staff working around him. Tynes, however, threw out accusations of a much less appealing facility. His lawsuit against the team alleges that they failed to sterilize numerous therapy devices, equipment and other areas that must be cleaned thoroughly.

I get that contracting a staph infection isn’t as easy or common as coming down with a cold. No need to ring the alarm on something that rarely happens league-wide. But it does happen, and to me, that is enough for conversation. Mandatory meetings with training staff, stressing the importance of hygiene and bandages to players, routine checks of the sterility of therapy devices and equipment — something. These teams make far too much money to not utilize proper sterilizing techniques.

The NFL is dangerous enough as it is without having to worry about abruptly ending a career after having a bacterial infection in a toe — or, much worse, losing an appendage or having a player’s life in danger. The league can look at it from a business point — avoid further lawsuits and focus on prevention instead of reactionary tactics. As far as Fells goes, I hope to see him make a recovery and that his current antibacterial therapy continues to have a positive effect.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *