Is Dr. James Andrews The Most Valuable Person In Sports?
If Sam Bradford gets picked as the No. 1 pick in tomorrow night’s first round of the NFL Draft, he’ll likely make more than $40 million guaranteed.
That’s a far cry from 185 days ago when the Oklahoma quarterback re-injured his right throwing shoulder for the second time in a month.
Injuries like Bradford’s aren’t career ending anymore, but one of the reasons why Bradford is being considered for the top pick is that his surgery was performed by the world’s top sports surgeon, who personally gave his endorsement of a clean bill of health to the St. Louis Rams, who own the rights to the No. 1 pick.
That surgeon is of course Dr. James R. Andrews, who estimates that at least 30 percent of the 40,000 some surgeries he has performed over the years have been on college and pro athletes.
Figuring that about 30 percent of those surgeries are career-saving operations, Andrews has arguably emerged as the single most valuable person in the business of sports.
It’s hard to say exactly how much Andrews has made for the athletes he has operated on, but it’s safe to say it’s in the billions between actual surgeries and consultations that give teams the faith to sign players after injury issues.
In football alone, he reworked Troy Aikman’s elbow and shoulder, mended Bo Jackson’s shoulder and replaced his hip, fixed Peyton Manning’s knee and perhaps most notably repaired a gruesome injury that Drew Brees suffered in the last game of the 2005 season that resulted in a torn labrum and additional tears in his rotator cuff.
“I got a call from Dr. Andrews at around 8:30 at night when he operated on Drew,” said Tom Condon, Brees’ agent who also happens to be Sam Bradford’s agent. “He said, ‘Tom, it looked really bad. But I don’t know if I’ve ever done as well as I’ve done today. That was the first time he was ever remotely complementary about himself.”
That’s an understatement.
For all the career saving and money making he’s done for players that have laid on his operating table, Andrews, whose Sports Medicine & Orthopedic Center is affiliated with St. Vincent’s Hospital in Birmingham, Ala., is uncomfortable for taking credit, even though there’s potentially a lot to take credit for.
Brees, as predicted by Andrews, returned to the field for the first game of the following year. Assurances from Andrews, led to the Saints giving Brees a six-year, $60 million deal and Brees of course came through by leading the team to a Super Bowl title this past year.
“The player, like Drew for example, he’s the guy who does it,” Andrews said. “It’s the player and the trainer that works together on a daily basis that determines whether something will work or not. I worked on him for two hours, he worked on himself every day.”
For all the money that Andrews saves, you’d think he could charge players a percentage of future revenue based on what he does. That’s not the case. Andrews says he doesn’t intimately get involved in the billing process, but does know that a high school player who has the same surgery as an NFL player gets charged the same price, regardless of how complicated the surgery ends up being.
Over the years, Andrews’ value in the sports world has only grown. Prospects are coming to him earlier – for surgery in high school – and that means that if they make it to the pros and earn big money, their entire careers could be traced back to Andrews.
And while it’s more revenue for Andrews, as president of the American Orthopedic Society for Sports Medicine, the increase in high school athletes visiting his office in epidemic proportions troubles him. It’s why he’s started STOP Sports Injuries, which plans to run public service announcements with recommendations to prevent youth sports injuries. In order to get attention, Bradford is backing the effort.
Equally as remarkable as the players he does surgery on is the business he has made out of consultations. After New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning injured his shoulder early in the 2007 season, Manning came to Andrews for a second opinion on whether he can play without surgery. Andrews said he could.
After New York Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez sprained his right knee in Week 13 last year, he made the trip to Birmingham to see Dr. Andrews.
“You almost have to go to him,” Sanchez told me. “He’s the best and everyone trusts him.” Andrews recommended that the Jets team doctors perform the surgery.
With millions of dollars on the line with almost every decision, Andrews calls up general managers and explains his evaluation. Over the years, Andrews says that they’ve become very familiar with the medical terminology.
“They’re right on top of everything,” Andrews said. “With the money that’s out there, they have to be really careful as to who they give their money to.”
And the Andrews brand doesn’t stop there. Three years ago, he opened the Andrews Institute for Orthopedics & Sports Medicine in Gulf Breeze, Fla., which houses a complete diagnostic and rehabilitation center.
After Andrews operates on another athlete, he says he automatically becomes a fan of them and looks forward to following their career. When it works out, like in Brees’ case and, at least money wise for Bradford, he admits it’s a fun thing to watch.
“It makes me feel great when someone I worked on wins a championship or wins an Olympic gold medal,” Andrews said. “But I always come back to the fact that it wasn’t about me. There’s a reason these guys became superstar athletes to begin with.”
As for what drives Andrews? Failure.
“I wake up worrying about the guys that I couldn’t repair,” Andrews said. “I think about what I could have done better and that’s what I thrive on every time I operate. How do I give this guy the best chance to play again?”
As for Bradford, he doesn’t have any fear.
“I’m not nervous,” Andrews said. “He’s an unbelievable young man who definitely has the physical characteristics to make it big. What’s funny in all this is that if you focus too much on the physical and not the intelligence quota and the moral character, you might make a mistake on who you choose. Sam has it all.”
Questions? Comments? SportsBiz@cnbc.com