Tribute to TSU team doctor in Atlanta

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, April 2, 2003

Dr. James Whiteside thought he was going to give a talk that began with his early memories of seeing Lou Gehrig play. He was planning on using his memories of seeing the legendary Yankee first baseman as a starting point for a talk before the Southeast Athletic Trainers Association on Saturday.

Instead, Whiteside, himself a now a legend, was honored by the SEATA as the Sportsmedicine Person of the Year.

Thinking he was only in Atlanta to deliver a talk to the gathering of educators and athletic trainers, Whiteside was surprised to be honored for a lifetime of work healing bodies and his contributions to the field of athletic training.

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Though his talk on "Memorable Memories on the Development of the Team Physician" was a hit, Whiteside's full career was the center of attention at the meeting.

"He's well published, well written, has a love for academics and he oversees every one of our evaluations and treatments," said Chuck Ash, head trainer at Troy State University.

Whiteside, who currently is the Richard Scrushy Endowed Chair as Eminent Scholar in Sports Medicine at Troy State, is, according to his colleagues, one of the premier athletic doctors in the nation.

"He's forgotten more than we'll ever learn," said Jon Adams, a doctor with Pike Internal Medicine who has worked closely with Whiteside.

Adams, who has signed copies of Whiteside's numerous books, described him as "an excellent teacher."

The man whom other doctors revere speaks quietly and is dressed in suit and tie, even though he has just come in off of the football practice field. He is as apt to discuss the intricacies of scientific analysis of tracking an athlete's recovery from a concussion as he is to rattle off a list of names of Chicago Cubs outfielders from the 1960s.

He describes the award in Atlanta and the recognition by colleagues as "one of the joys of the profession."

His career began in Coral Gables, Fla., where he practiced pediatric and sports medicine for 17 years. He spent 13 years as head trainer for the Penn State football team and Ash said phone calls from college football icon Joe Paterno still come into the office from time to time.

Whiteside said he met Dr. James Andrews, known as "Jesus" in sports medicine circles for his prowess repairing elbows and knees, through professional circles. Eventually Andrews talked him into forming a partnership and after a stint at Samford University, Whiteside found himself making trips down to Troy to work on football players. He continues to write medical articles with Andrews and has been providing medical treatment to Trojans ever since.

Though he says colleague Doc Anderson, who was also honored at the SEATA awards ceremony, does "95 percent of the lecturing," Whiteside still appears in classrooms to impart knowledge and invaluable experience.

He continues to show keen interest in the development of college students into athletic trainers and shows no signs of slowing down.

"He's trained several NFL trainers, he lectures and he publishes," Ash said. "It's amazing. He's 76-years-old and still adapts to the times. He uses a Palm Pilot and just got a flat screen on his computer and gave a Powerpoint presentation last week. He just wrote another chapter."

Whiteside describes writing as "fun but time-consuming."

His list of publications is extensive. With chapters in books like "The Elbow in Athletics" and "The Biomechanics of Windmill Softball Pitching," it's obvious that the deference given to his opinions by his colleagues is warranted.

Ash said when he heard that Whiteside would be coming to Troy State, there was a palpable sense of excitement in the TSU training room. They knew they were getting a dominant figure in the field, he said.

Whiteside said he'd continue to practice medicine "good Lord willing, as long as I can see, hear and feel."

From the time of Lou Gehrig to the era of genetic therapy that Whiteside said is just around the corner, Whiteside's career has spanned an explosion in athletics and technology, increased professionalism of sport and round-the-clock attention paid to those who step onto playing fields.

On Saturday night, Whiteside's career as a healer and man of medicine was given a share of the spotlight.