The World’s Most Watched Sports Physicals

By Dev Mishra, M.D., President, Sideline Sports Doc, Clinical Assistant Professor of Orthopedic Surgery, Stanford University

Key Point:

  • The real purpose of the NFL Combine is to do preparticipation physical exams on the athletes entering the NFL draft

Will Sam Darnold throw? Apparently not. Will a “sleeper” rise to the top of the charts based on stellar performance? We’ll see. This week is the NFL Combine, the annual scouting evaluation taking place in Indianapolis.

My Stanford partners Drs. Tim McAdams (49ers head team physician) and Geoff Abrams will be attending, along with team doctors from all the other NFL teams. Geoff tells me they are expecting to do medical evaluations on close to 400 players in the next 4 days.

Just about every NFL fan is somewhat familiar with the “NFL Combine” held each spring prior to the NFL draft. This event is now a mind-numbing televised display of 40-yard dash times, shuttle runs, bench press reps, etc. But how many of you know the real purpose of the NFL Combine?

Well, the key purpose of the NFL Combine is to provide medical exams for the players entering the NFL draft- it is their preparticipation physical exam. The NFL Combine is properly called the National Invitational Camp and the first camp was held in 1982. The need for the camp arose out of a need from team executives and medical staff to determine the physical health of the players entering the draft.

Prior to 1982 there was no standardized way to assess player health coming out of college. The Combine was a way to do very detailed health assessments including possible heart and lung ailments, concussion history, and of course orthopedic history. Team medical staff will assign clearance classifications or grades to athletes that often attempt to predict future risk or effects on performance. Many millions of dollars ride on these assessments.

The players are broken up into position groups and then cycle through the various examSideLineSportsDoc rooms so that they meet with the medical staff for all 32 teams. The players are required to fill out medical histories but as you can imagine they may be reluctant to disclose everything, given that their athletic futures are on the line here. But these days the teams and their staff are pretty skilled at finding the information they need.

If you’re a true NFL junkie then take heart: the 2018 NFL season is underway.

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