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Documents cite U of I concerns on what to release about hospitalized athletes

[ 23 ] February 22, 2011 |

University of Iowa athletic officials expressed concerns last month about what to tell the public and reactions to the workout-related hospitalization of 13 Hawkeye football players, a review of hundreds of pages of documents released Tuesday shows.

The situation involving the players, who were treated after strenuous off-season drills, created a public-relations rift that stretched across the country.

In one e-mail exchange among associate athletic director Rick Klatt, athletic director Gary Barta, Iowa’s sports information staff and others, Klatt summarizes criticisms of the Hawkeye football program by writers for SportsIllustrated.com and CBSSports.com.

“Re: national media … not surprised at all with the reaction … but I’d like to think they’ll be in touch with Phil/Steve (Iowa sports information) before they elect to go ‘nuclear’ … but it also speaks to the importance of getting out in front of this today,” Klatt wrote the morning of Jan. 26 – two days after players were hospitalized.

The documents, requested by The Des Moines Register and other media under the state’s open records law, provide a glimpse at how officials reacted when players were treated as a result of developing rhabdomyolysis. The condition breaks down muscle tissue, resulting from extreme workouts, dehydration or other factors that can cause severe kidney and permanent kidney damage in some cases.

All players were released from University of Iowa Hospitals within a week of admission.

University representatives are in the midst of an investigation to determine what caused the health issue.

E-mail exchanges provided Tuesday show debate about whether officials should disclose that athletes had been hospitalized. Tysen Kendig, U of I vice president of strategic communication, expressed doubts about the initial statement Iowa released on Jan. 25.

“I can’t help but wonder if this raises more questions than it seeks to address by issuing it,” Kendig wrote. “For instance, it doesn’t at all address what happened? What was the cause?”

Dr. Ned Amendola, head of U of I sports medicine, countered Kendig by writing that providing some information was beneficial.

“Dr. (Kyle) Smoot has done an excellent job taking care of these kids. We are still working on why this happened,” Amendola wrote. “This is a very uncommon diagnosis and to affect such a large number of kids at the same time.”

The records that were made public did not show e-mail traffic about the condition of the athletes or the circumstances surrounding their hospitalization on the day of Jan. 24.

In their initial statement the next day, university representatives disclosed that 12 athletes, later increased to 13, had been hospitalized, but officials gave no reason why.

Steve Parrott, a U of I spokesman, said a university review of e-mails about the incident showed none was sent on Jan. 24.

Parrott said officials withheld three e-mails – two dated Jan. 25 – because they dealt with student-athlete medical conditions and were protected by federal and state privacy laws. A third e-mail listed each player’s room and cell phone numbers.

In preparation for a U of I news conference, Klatt underscored the public-relations elements at play as the university made decisions about how to address the public and media.

One statement, attributed to Iowa football coach Kirk Ferentz, assured the public that players were responding to treatment, and promised to find the cause.

“This is an opportunity to ‘control our message,’ ” Klatt wrote in an e-mail before the release of Ferentz’s Jan. 28 statement.

Phil Haddy, a member of the U of I’s sports information staff, indicated that others had drafted the statement from Ferentz – rather than the coach – and there was an effort to keep that fact secret.

“Everyone knows he keeps things very short and to the point,” Haddy, wrote on Jan. 27. “I know this is important, but I think they will probably know he didn’t write it.”

Klatt urged that Ferentz be given wide latitude on how he wanted the statement to read.

“One of the many important things is that he agrees with the message – it is his, after all – and it is accurate regardless of its length,” Klatt wrote.

Klatt added: “Also – very, very important – please delete after reading it.”

Tom Moore, another member of the university’s public relations staff, said deletion of e-mails is done independently by university employees “if for no other reason than to avoid confusion down the road.”

Moore defended Klatt’s instruction to delete the e-mail.

Moore indicated employees routinely discard communications they consider to be draft documents because they believe that is consistent with the state’s open records law.

“Press releases and statements often go through various drafts, and early versions can contain misinformation, misunderstanding of information, and/or elements that might unintentionally violate privacy laws,” Moore said.

“As such, to avoid the risk of misinterpretation, early drafts of such materials often are discarded or deleted,” he added.

Two top U of I officials expressed concerns about how transparent the athletic department would be about the incident and how treatment of the athletes was being handled.

Elizabeth Altmaier, a U of I faculty athletic representative, and Lisabeth Kestel, a physical therapy professor and member of the Presidential Committee on Athletics, or PCA, outlined their unease.

“I am writing to note my own concern,” Altmaier wrote Jan. 26 to Barta and U of I President Sally Mason, “and our need to be transparent when we find out the causes of the medical situation. I also see from press coverage that the team coaches are heading up medical care, and I cannot believe that orthopedists equal internists or nephrologists for the best care for these young people.”

Kestel wrote Jan. 27 that the “situation with the student-athletes in (football) has me very disturbed. As a health care provider, I feel more of an obligation to find out what is going on and to help assist in seeing that this or something similar does not happen again.”

She suggested she wasn’t confident about how transparent athletic officials would be. “The lack of transparency of the athletic department in working with the PCA over the last few years has been frustrating to me at best,” she wrote.

DOCUMENTS:

E-mails, part 1. (This is an un-annotated string of e-mails. An annotated version will be posted soon.)

E-mails, part 2. (Un-annotated string of e-mails. An annotated version will be posted soon.)

U of I emergency plan.

List of approved nutritional supplements for UI players.

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Category: Iowa Hawkeyes Football

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