The Big Mac Blog

America’s foremost sports surgeon at odds with youth sports zealots

Dr. James Andrews is the most famous sports surgeon today, and a vocal critic of the growth of youth sports that has seen a rise in injuries.
Dr. James Andrews is the most famous sports surgeon today, and a vocal critic of the growth of youth sports that has seen a rise in injuries.

Dr. James Andrews is widely considered one the foremost sports orthopaedic surgeon in the game today, with Dr. Frank Jobe either equal to or a close second.

Andrews was the man who performed the Tommy John surgery on Texas Rangers pitcher Yu Darvish’s elbow, and the knee of Washington Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III. If there is a high dollar athlete in America today that requires surgery, Dr. Andrews is the guy that will either do it, or will be asked to do it.

He has his own institute - the Andrews Sports Medicine and Orthopaedic Center in Birmingham, Alabama. Andrews is the only guy that can work for both the University of Alabama and Auburn University football teams.

He is a strong advocate of sports, of youth sports, and a stronger advocate of rest and time off, and common sense in youth sports. In the past few years, Andrews has been vocal in his support of curbing the rampant growth of youth sports that is injuring kids at an alarming rate.

Andrews is seeing kids with adult injuries because they are playing too much. He has written a book with veteran sports writer Don Yeager, “Any Given Monday: Sports Injuries and How to Prevent Them for Athletes, Parents, and Coaches - Based on My Life in Sports Medicine.”

On Thursday, Andrews came to Dallas to spread awareness about youth sports injuries on behalf of the Children’s Health Andrews Institute - Orthopaedics & Sports Medicine, which is opening in Plano. He spoke to a small handful of people in Preston Village, after which he and I chatted.

Before I met Andrews, I was very much in favor of reducing the staggering number of games kids play in “travel leagues,” which are sold to parents to improve the kid’s chances to become a college or pro player. It really helps the youth coach win meaningless games, and parents vicariously through their children. A consequence of a 10-year-old playing as many as 180 little league baseball games a year, and the proliferation of year-round sports, are leading to serious injuries to kids and a high-rate of burnout, Andrews said.

Andrews said he has seen youth sports in American take off in its current direction when Tiger Woods became Tiger Woods as a teen, and his story of how his dad, Earl, raised him with a single focus to excel in golf.

“How many Tiger Woods’ are there?” he asked. “He’s one in a million.”

I thought we were done talking and he said to me, “Sit down - you have to hear this one.”

Andrews has his share of Professional Dad stories, and this one is a good one:

“I got a call once from a number in Miami and I had no idea who it was but I answered it,” Andrews said. “And it was some guy who was telling me he had to get some information because he wasn’t sure what to do. He really wanted for me to get him in touch with an agent. I said, ‘I know lots of agents. Most of them are really good people. I know about 30 of them.’ Well, this guy was talking a mile a minute and I couldn’t get a word in. The guy told me that they had a deal with Nike or something, and they were going to put this kid in a tennis academy in South Florida. He was a tennis player.”

It is not uncommon that aspiring tennis players go to South Florida to train.

How old was the the kid?

Andrews smiled and he held up four fingers. “The kid was four years old,” he said.

The conversation was over.