From Friday Night Lights to OR Lights

Third and seven, ball on the 40-yard line. I approach the line of scrimmage, tense, but armed with a confidence earned through practice, preparation, and dedication. Engulfed by a chorus of cheers from 50,000 spectators, I note the defensive backs aligned in a two-shell. Ready. Set. On the snap, they attempt to surprise, and rotate into an unorthodox coverage. My body tenses, mind races, and from instinctual reflexes developed through intense preparation, I adapt and re-route. Adversity meets opportunity – prepared – I make the catch and breathe new life into our offense.

Reading a defense and catching a football is not orthopedic surgery, but the two share in the idea that excellence results from dedication, preparation, and teamwork. Aside from my parents, football has been the most formative experience of my life. Professional success today as an orthopedic surgeon at Hospital for Special Surgery is driven by lessons learned on the gridiron.

In a time where sports, particularly contact sports like football, are under siege by the media due to their potential adverse affects to athlete health, it is critical that we reflect on the broader meaning and positive values imparted on youth. Lessons learned transcend practice fields, weight rooms, and stadiums and enable athletes to develop strategies for pursuing success and more importantly facing defeat to overcome adversity in future professional endeavors and interpersonal relationships.

When I arrived at Harvard, I learned quickly that the level of competition exceeded any I had known before. Entering as a freshman football player, I stood 6’2” and tipped the scales at a meager 165 pounds. I was easily the physically weakest person on the team and realized that success would not come easily. Each step-wise goal met, another loftier goal set. Eventually I would exceed others’ expectations, but meet my own. My role today as an orthopedic surgeon specializing in sports medicine is no different. Whether examining patients in the office, conducting research, or leading a surgical team in the operating room, my thought process and approach reflects experiences as a football player.

During that time in college, when I was still undecided about pursuing medicine, I had the opportunity to spend a summer with Dr. Stephen O’Brien (also a former collegiate football player) at Hospital for Special Surgery. The very first patient we saw together who had recently undergone total knee replacement, hugged him and said, “Thank you for saving my life”.  There could be no greater privilege than providing such life altering care to patients.  Later that summer, as Dr. O’Brien readied himself for a major operation, I asked him if he was nervous. He quickly responded, “Of course … but this is 4th and goal from the 1-yard line … and I want the ball.”  The game never leaves, it only changes.

Mobility as a vital part of being – its loss carries dire implications for patients. My mission today isn’t earning playing time, rather it is restoring mobility. Returning an athlete to the field, enabling weekend warriors to play without pain, helping people return to work sooner, and allowing parents and grandparents enjoy time with their families. When challenged with a difficult clinical problem I draw on the drive that allowed a 6’2”, 165-pound freshmen to mature into a varsity football player. Every patient is a new line of scrimmage. Ready. Set.

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Dr. Samuel Taylor, Sports Medicine Surgeon, has developed a unique understanding of the demands and anxieties faced by injured athletes at all levels. His clinical expertise includes minimally invasive and reconstructive techniques of the shoulder, elbow, and knee. Dr. Taylor currently serves as Associate Team Physician for the New York Football Giants and team physician for the Fire Department of New York (FDNY) semi-professional football team.



The information provided in this blog by HSS and our affiliated physicians is for general informational and educational purposes, and should not be considered medical advice for any individual problem you may have. This information is not a substitute for the professional judgment of a qualified health care provider who is familiar with the unique facts about your condition and medical history. You should always consult your health care provider prior to starting any new treatment, or terminating or changing any ongoing treatment. Every post on this blog is the opinion of the author and may not reflect the official position of HSS. Please contact us if we can be helpful in answering any questions or to arrange for a visit or consult.