Deflated NFL Balls Should Surprise
Us Less Than Inflated Academic Egos

By

Leonard Zwelling

         Let’s agree to control ourselves and not make any single
entendres about  “DeflateGate.”

Unless
you have been on Venus for the past week, you are aware that the New England
Patriots, the AFL representative team in the Super Bowl, have been accused of
purposefully underinflating the footballs used in their rout of the Colts, and
then sending out their coach and quarterback to attest to the degree of their
ignorance on the subject. This strains credibility.

Apparently,
underinflated balls are easier to catch and to throw and each team supplies its
own balls on offense. It took an interception for the discovery of the alleged
cheating to occur, if I understand the details correctly. I got them all second
hand because this is the most ludicrous story since the State
of the Union message put Hillary Clinton in the unenviable position of running
on a platform to increase taxes. The new killer Bees: Belichick, Brady and
Barack!

         Why it should come as a surprise that big-time athletes
cheat to gain an advantage in sports where the money is so huge is beyond me. I
used to have a Social Studies teacher, Ms. Guido, who as she was passing out
the final exams said to us:

         “I will be proctoring this exam. Put away all other
materials.  It’s not that I think you’ll
cheat, I know damned well you will.”

         Exactly.

         We have much evidence of the veracity of the wisdom of my 7th
grade teacher.

Performance
enhancing drugs defined an era in baseball. Blood doping and EPO haunted
cycling. The inevitable Olympian will be disqualified for failing a drug test
in Rio. At least the golfers and tennis players welcome the testing and the
tennis players are dealt with extremely harshly if caught cheating. The team
sports are still catching up. Currently it’s only the Harlem Globetrotters that
pull down the shorts of the opposing basketball players or it might start a
trend in the NBA with tattoos covering every player’s entire body. Now THAT
would lead to some real moon shots!

         People cheat. The more that is at stake, the more likely the
cheating as well as the temptation. Think Bernie Madoff.

There
was no way on God’s green Earth that Richard Nixon was going to lose the 1972
Presidential race after his triumphant trip to China and his moves toward
withdrawal from Vietnam. Yet, we had Watergate, dirty tricks, the burglary of Daniel
Ellsberg’s psychiatrist and the incarceration of All the President’s Men. Even
a sure winner will be tempted to cheat. I guess it was in his character for,”
if the President does it, it’s not illegal” kind of gives him away.

         So what can be done?

         In sports, and tennis has taken the lead, the drug testing
is constant and penalties for failure devastating. That’s a good start.

         It is highly unlikely that Mark McGuire, Sammy Sosa or Barry
Bonds will get into the Hall of Fame. The pity is that they all probably could
have without the anabolic juice. Surely Bonds would have as he was a star even
before he doubled his hat size.

         I bring this up because (surprise), I think academic
medicine is cheating itself right now when it creates financial arrangements
that clearly violate common sense as well as conflict of interest rules. Rather
than under inflated footballs, academia is suffering from overinflated egos. The
rules don’t seem to apply to those running this biomedical enterprise.

The
reason an academic medical institution cannot act like a drug company and do the
research that will enhance the value of its portfolio is because the ultimate
place of academia in society is not the same as that of a drug company. 

Drug
companies have really got only one goal. It is to maximize shareholder value.
That is usually done by developing a successful (effective, non-toxic and
highly priced) drug and getting it on the market. If it beats the competition’s
drug used for a similar purpose good or, better yet, if the new drug has no
competition, jackpot!

         One of the reasons pharma uses the academic centers as
testing grounds for their new drugs during many of the phases of drug
development is because the centers and their investigators act as independent
clinical laboratories and scientists to support the efficacy and safety of
these new drugs in lab studies and IRB-approved clinical trials that generate data
for the FDA to review prior to federal agency granting the new drug or device market approval.
The centers and their personnel are viewed as independent, unbiased arbiters of
the truth, at least in theory.

If
the testing lab and/or the clinical researchers have the same financial
interest as the shareholders of the drug company stock because the academic
center or its faculty ARE shareholders, that’s a clear conflict that undermines
the integrity and independence of the academic center’s credibility. Academic
centers have only one useful product. Truth. Compromise that with stock
ownership and the perception of the center’s independence is shot. And despite
claims to the contrary, this cannot be “managed;” it must be eliminated.

         In other words, these biotech and pharma stock deals with
the academic centers are the modern biomedical equivalent of a corked bat or a
shot of EPO during the Tour de France.

         Just ask former CPRIT supporter Lance Armstrong how that all
worked out for him.  

         So if the NFL or one of its franchises wants to alter the
pressure in its footballs to give one team an unfair advantage, I really don’t
care all that much and I am certainly not surprised, particularly if it
involves a team that has already gained its bone fides as a band of cheaters in
the past. Some Patriots!

There
is a lot at stake for them, I guess, but not for patients. Besides, it gave the
headline writers of America a myriad of possible uses of the word “balls.” I
really have no idea why all those tabloids thought that was funny, but I guess it sold copies.

         When an academic medical center steps over the line and
begins to take on the trappings and financial interest of a drug company, now
that worries me.

         As potential patients, it should worry us all, yet it
doesn’t seem to from my vantage point, which may be the most deflating piece of
news of all.

Leonard Zwelling