As a fan of the Montreal Canadiens, I follow on Twitter a number of journalists who write about the team. One I like quite a lot is Arpon Basu (@ArponBasu), who writes for nhl.com. Recently, he tweeted on Habs’ captain Brian Gionta’s bicep surgery as follows:
#Habs Gionta had bicep surgery, deemed a success by the team
This tweet struck me as odd. As a lifelong sports fan, I have seen dozens of media reports of athletes’ surgeries. Most of them immediately report the surgery as successful: “Joe Blow underwent successful brain implantation surgery at the clinic of noted surgeon Dr. Frankenstein.” It struck me that Basu’s tweet was making a broader commentary than simply relaying the Habs’ release. So, I tweeted a reply to him:
@ArponBasu When did we go from “Gio had successfully bicep surgery” to “Gio had bicep surgery, deemed successful by the team”?
(Yes, I know the word “successfully” should have ended two letters before it did.) Basu’s reply:
@THEkerrybutt Because it’s the team that said it was successful. I’ve learned that doesn’t necessarily mean it was a success
He expanded his point in a subsequent tweet:
@THEkerrybutt In my eyes, a surgery is a success when the player returns. The Markov saga has taught me that much
At first glance, this seems reasonable enough. There’s many a slip twixt the cup and the lip, as the saying goes. So, like Markov, Gionta might have setbacks, have to undergo subsequent procedures, etc. But does this make the original surgery unsuccessful? Perhaps the player did not follow the recommended post-op procedures or rehab properly. I have always assumed that the word “successful” in a team’s release about a player’s surgery refers to the surgeon’s characterization. If we have to wait until the player is back playing before we call the initial surgery a success, how then are we to evaluate the initial surgery? Perhaps a team’s surgery press release should read:
“Joe Blow underwent brain implantation at the clinic of noted surgeon Dr. Frankenstein. We’re hoping the surgery was a success, but we really have no way of knowing until Blow takes to the ice and shows us that he now has a clue. That’s expected to be about a year from now. We’ll keep you posted.”
Is that a better way of reporting the surgery? I don’t think so. I think that, if the doctor (who’s supposed to be the expert) feels the surgery was a success, there’s no reason why the team shouldn’t report that. Basu’s phrase “deemed a success by the team” implies (intentionally or otherwise) that the team is “spinning” the outcome of the surgery. I think that’s a bit unfair.
What do you think? Comments, as always, as welcome.