On any NFL playing field, the laser-like focus of teams matched against the decibel levels of a roaring crowd breeds an intensity that’s hard to rival. It’s a fierce atmosphere - one where players may only be able to see their immediate periphery but can feel their opponent everywhere. Stakes are high in these games, and so is risk.
Dr. Patrick Connor, team physician for the Carolina Panthers for the past 18 years, will be the first to tell you that risk is inherent to the game of football. He authored a recent study showing that nine percent of NFL players injure their ACL – the anterior cruciate ligament – within two years of getting drafted. Football is really a collision sport, rather than simply a contact sport. Given the sheer amounts of physical energy and force that accompany football, injuries can be far worse for NFL athletes than athletes in different sports.
At any Panthers game, you’ll find Dr. Connor watching intently on the sideline… because a player can sustain an injury in just seconds. Connor takes a team approach to healthcare, focusing on the best options for the players both short and long term. He works closely with the Carolina Panthers athletic training staff as well as other consultants within OrthoCarolina to coordinate players’ rehabilitation and care.
For as busy as his role with the Panthers keeps him, Dr. Connor actually spends most of his time at the OrthoCarolina’s Sports Medicine Center, seeing patients of all ages, in particular for shoulder, knee and elbow issues.
In Dr. Connor’s own words, here are 10 things to know about being a physician to an NFL team:
- NFL physicians typically care for not just the players, but also their families, friends and members of the entire organization. We are team physicians for the entire organization … which we all embrace.
- We are always “on call” for the team, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. So, it’s not just a Sunday afternoon position.
- NFL physicians play a role in the creation of very specific NFL recommendations, guidelines and protocols for treatment of different injuries. This consistency helps all team physicians treat their players with the same expertise and level of care.
- All injuries sustained by NFL players are entered into a NFL Injury Surveillance System (database) which allows us to follow all injuries, their treatment and outcome trends over time.
- NFL medical coverage is a team sport just like football. Team physicians, athletic trainers and physician consultants in all areas of expertise, and a hospital system all work together to provide the best overall medical management for players as possible.
- Our season starts, along with the NFL's season, at the NFL Combines every February. There we’ll examine 350+ players in preparation for the upcoming NFL Draft in April.
- We evaluate all new players for “entrance physicals” and all players at the end of the year for “exit physicals”.
- There is a NFL Physicians’ Society comprised of all NFL team physicians that works together to share ideas, research, education and NFL experiences all for the purpose of maximizing care for the NFL athlete.
- All NFL team physicians are specialists in their subspecialty (i.e., Orthopedic Surgery, Internal Medicine, etc.) but also in Sports Medicine in general.
- Our #1 priority is the overall health and well being of the players and the organization. It is not our job to worry about wins and losses … just to be physicians.
Dr. Patrick Connor is a sports medicine surgeon with OrthoCarolina and serves as head team physician to the Carolina Panthers, Charlotte Knights, Joe Gibbs Racing and Providence Day School. He was named a Charlotte Top Doctor in 2014 by the Charlotte Business Journal and Charlotte Magazine, as well as a North Carolina Top Doctor in 2015 by Business NC Magazine. Dr. Connor specializes in sports medicine, arthroscopic and reconstructive knee surgery, and shoulder and elbow surgery.