Levy’s thoughts on 45 years as Ticats’ doctor
On how football players have changed since 1972:
“Mostly in nutrition and off-season training. Back then the pay scale was so different: these guys worked at Stelco or had other jobs to compensate. Their diets were not great. Those were the days when you’d have a huge steak the night before; it wasn’t carbs, it was high protein.
“We had four pre-season games, and a long training camp. And that’s when they’d get into shape: so by the fourth week they’d either be all beaten up: it was survival of the fittest.”
On how sports team trainers have changed.
“Back in the Jimmy Simpson days, they were guys who played football who learned how to tape. It’s gone from an art to a science. Jonesy (Ray Jones) was good as a trainer and a character, but then you get into trainers who’ve been educated specifically for athletic injuries. You got Chris Puskas and then Carly Vandergrient, who were tops in their class and had really good education for it.”
On why he likes working with athletes, professional, amateur and weekend warriors:
“I guess it’s the drive to accomplish, to better themselves and to better their teams. And with a lot of things in medicine, the problem is compliance: you give a patient some instructions and some protocol on how to get themselves well, but a lot of people just expect, ‘Give me surgery or give me something to get me well.’ They’re not willing to be participants in their own rehabilitation and good health. I often found athletes are, if anything, too compliant; they want to be back yesterday. It was almost a pleasure pulling on the reins because you knew they had a direction, you knew you had a motivated patient who was going to get themselves well.”
On the empirical value of sports medicine:
“I think there’s a lot that’s been done in sports medicine that helps medicine in general. Dr. Bob Jackson is an example, learning to using the arthroscope when he was in Japan. The idea initially was to get the player back quickly, it’s not invasive, and reduces the damage. Arthroscopy has blossomed into something you can do for gall bladder and other things.
“There’s a lot more knowledge now of how important exercise is to health, how important nutrition is to health.
“This has really come out of sports medicine and sports science.” On what it means to be a team doctor: “I watched Ticats games at Civic Stadium sitting on my father’s knee when I was four or five. I realized when I became a team physician that you are no longer a fan but an advocate for the player’s health. Decisions are not based on what’s best for the team at that moment but what is best for your athlete/patient. As much the player, or a coach, may urge you to let them go back, you must remember he has a family and a future and that no one game is worth the price that many have paid for making injuries cause lifelong disability.” On football and hockey: “Football is a collision sport, it’s not a contact sport. Hockey is a physical, hard game, with lots of big hits. Afterwards, three people come in for ice packs. In football, 15 come in to be assessed after a game, and five of them won’t play the next game. In a season you might have six guys requiring surgery.” On concussions: “Certainly by the ’80s we started realizing it (the effect of concussions). That people weren’t quite the same in the second half. This is before we knew about second impact syndrome where if you get concussed twice in the same game, you could bleed in the brain and end up with devastating effects, but I knew something was wrong.
“We didn’t have the sideline concussion protocol. My trick was to ask the simple questions: count backwards by two from 10, say the months backward, but I’d also get other players who play on the same team, defence or offence, and ask them to call out numbers and see if he knew where he needed to be.
“Back in the ’80s we were already taking helmets away from people and hiding them. Sometimes coaches didn’t like that at all because the players are always going to say, ‘I’m ready, I don’t know what his problem is.’” On terrible injuries: “I remember more the player’s reaction to it than my own, because the doctor has to stay objective.
“I remember Steve Stapler dislocating his hip. It was the first time I saw that on the field — you see it in emergency rooms after car accidents — and I didn’t see it again until it happened to Johnny Sears last year.”
David Levy helps Ben Zambiasi off the field during a game in the 1980s.