Penn State football coach James Franklin pressured a team doctor to clear injured players to return to the field, the doctor alleges in a lawsuit that claims he was fired for reporting the interference as a violation of NCAA and Big Ten conference rules.
Dr. Scott Lynch filed the lawsuit Monday in Dauphin County Court alleging his removal as the football team doctor and director of athletic medicine in March was retaliatory and violated Pennsylvania’s whistleblower Law.
Penn State Health said in a statement that its administrators decided in February to change leadership for athletic medicine and care of intercollegiate athletes.
“This transition was completed with the best interests of student-athletes in mind, given the increasing complexity and growing demands of sports medicine, as well as health care in general. While we reject Dr. Lynch’s claims and will vigorously defend our program and its representatives, we remain grateful to him for his five years as director of athletic medicine for Intercollegiate Athletics and for his continued association with Penn State Health,” the statement says.
Recently, Franklin said that the team’s medical staff determines when injured players are cleared to return.
“With injuries, those are strictly medical decisions,” Franklin said this month when asked about the status of a player injured during the offseason. “When they are ready to come back and they are healthy and they can protect themselves and then they’re not at risk, they’ll be back. We don’t make those decisions.
“Depending on the type of injury, you’re going to be cautious. You’re going to err on the side of caution.”
As team doctor, Lynch was supposed to have the final say on treatment and return-to-play decisions for student athletes under the Big Ten Conference and National Collegiate Athletic Association rules designed to protect the well-being of players, the suit says.
Suit's allegations against Franklin: The suit alleges Franklin created a culture and climate that obstructed full compliance with the Big Ten and NCAA rules.
“On multiple and repeated occasions, defendant James Franklin attempted to interfere with the plaintiff’s autonomous authority to determine medical management and return-to-play decisions related to student-athletes,” the suit says.
Lynch refused to relent to Franklin’s attempts to interfere in his treatment of players, the suit says. He reported the alleged infractions to Hershey Medical Center and its chairman of orthopedics and rehabilitation at Penn State Health, Dr. Kevin P. Black.; and Penn State and its Athletic Integrity Officer Robert Boland, Vice President for Intercollegiate Athletics Sandy Barbour and Senior Associate Athletic Director Charmelle Green, the suit says.
Lynch's dismissal: The suit alleges that in January, Barbour and Green demanded to Black that Lynch be relieved from his assignment as football team doctor and director of athletic medicine at Penn State. Lynch alleges that it was a result of his reports that Franklin had attempted to influence and interfere with his treatment of players.
The suit also claims Penn State ignored recommendations after he left his position as team doctor to improve care of players and protect the autonomy of trainers and physicians in their treatment decisions.
Lynch also alleges that Barbour, Green, Franklin, Penn State, Hershey Medical Center and Black conspired to create a cover story for retaliating against him. The suit claims they met and engaged in conversation to manufacture the false narrative that the reason Lynch was let go was that Penn State wanted an orthopedic doctor based in State College, rather than the Hershey area.
Second conflict with medical staff: This is the second time since 2013 that Penn State has had a conflict between the football and medical staffs. In 2013, Lynch was named orthopedic consultant for Penn State football, replacing former team doctor Wayne Sebastianelli. Lynch then was appointed Penn State’s director of athletic medicine in 2014.
Sebastianelli, Penn State’s longtime football team doctor who treated late coach Joe Paterno, was removed as football team physician in 2013 under former athletic director Dave Joyner and former coach Bill O’Brien. That year, Sports Illustrated ran a story critical of the football team’s medical operations, saying changes could have provided athletes with reduced on-site medical coverage.
O’Brien, now the head coach of the Houston Texans in the NFL,, called the Sports Illustrated story “preposterous” and suggested that it was a “character assassination” against Joyner, a former orthopedic surgeon.
Sebastianelli returned as Penn State’s director of athletic medicine in March.