The Doctor Behind The Athletes: James Andrews

By Michael LeCompte

Sports medicine is a massive industry encompassing all levels of any sport. Professional teams have training staffs, doctors, and specialists to either prevent or deal with any conceivable injury.

Trainers and doctors do their best to keep players in the game when injuries occur during the action. Sometimes, though, surgery is needed and then superstar athletes usually turn to one man. Dr. James Andrews is that man.

We’ve probably all heard his name mentioned by athletes and announcers, but who exactly is Dr. James Andrews? and why do athletes trust his opinion and expertise above all others in the sports medicine community, often opting to go under the knife or forego surgery based on his examinations or analyses?

James Andrews was born in 1942 and grew up in Homer, Louisiana and attended Louisiana State University, where he was a Southeastern Conference pole-vaulting champion in 1963.

He attended medical school at Tulane and became an orthopaedic surgeon, specializing in damaged ligaments, especially those of the knee, elbow, and shoulders.

Similar to some of the athletes he would later treat that were drafted by the right team at the right time to become stars, Dr. Andrews’ career took off in the early 1970’s with the popularization of arthroscopic surgery.

Arthroscope technology (a device inserted into the patient to see the interior of a particular joint) had been around for decades, but Dr. Andrews was one of the first to truly embrace the procedure, becoming proficient and ultimately prolific at it.

Over the years Dr. Andrews client list has come to resemble an all-star game roster or perhaps a Hall of Fame brochure. He’s operated on the likes of Bo Jackson, Jack Nicklaus, Michael Jordan, Tom Brady, Drew Brees, Robert Griffin III, Lindsey Vonn, Roger Clemens, and John Cena, just to name a few.

He founded the Andrews Sports Medicine and Orthopaedic Center in Birmingham, Alabama and was a co-founder of the American Sports Medicine Institute. Additionally Dr. Andrews serves as the team doctor for Alabama, Auburn, and the Washington Redskins.

Recently Dr. Andrews has spearheaded a movement to stem the rising tide of overuse injuries so prevalent in sports, especially baseball. His 2013 book Any Given Monday examines how to prevent injuries from youth sports to the pros.

Dr. Andrews’ work prolongs and in some cases even saves the careers of athletes and his own stats are amazing. Although he has begun to cut back over the past decade, throughout his career he regularly performed over 1,000 surgeries a year, and to date he has performed over 4,000 Tommy John procedures. Through all the years and countless clients and surgeries he only has one blemish, a single malpractice suit, on his medical record.

The longevity of his career and the work he has done will undoubtedly land him in multiple sport Halls of Fame whenever he retires.

For now, though, Dr. James Andrews is still a rock star of an orthopaedic surgeon, even at 73 years old. He leads the kind of fancy life his athlete clients could appreciate (including the luxury cars and 50 foot racing yacht), however, unlike his patients he has achieved this status with his mind rather than his body.

Through his contribution to sports medicine Dr. James Andrews has impacted the games we love to watch. He’s kept our favorite players going, reminding us that the most important person in the game isn’t always on the field.

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