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Another 'successful' surgery for Westbrook begs questions, right?

Russell Westbrook hurts his knee in the playoffs and since has had two 'successful' operations. (USATSI)
Russell Westbrook hurts his knee in the playoffs and since has had two 'successful' operations. (USATSI)

The Oklahoma City Thunder announced that Russell Westbrook "underwent successful surgery ... to repair a lateral meniscus tear in his right knee."

That's an actual passage from an actual news release produced by the actual Oklahoma City Thunder -- but it isn't about the knee surgery that Westbrook underwent Tuesday.

It was from April 27.

The first time Russell Westbrook "underwent successful surgery" on his right knee.

Wasn't so successful, huh?

Listen, this story here isn't strictly about Westbrook and the Thunder. I'm not playing gotcha with one team over one incident. Nor am I using this to underscore the fact that some professional teams -- the San Diego Chargers, to name one from just the past few months -- have had issues with their medical staff. That happens, and that's a story, but it's not my story.

Hell, I don't even know that the Thunder have a problem with their medical staff. Nor am I implying they do, so if that's what you think you're getting here, think again. I'm using this Westbrook development as what we in my business call a "news peg" to address a larger issue, that being the brazen arrogance of the athletic medical community, and the willingness -- or maybe ignorance -- of the teams willing to carry their water.

It's all about that one word used to describe Westbrook's surgery from April 27: "successful." That word appeared there, but it appears just about every time a professional athlete undergoes a surgical procedure. Guys never just have surgery on their knee or ankle or whatever. They have successful surgery.

That has always bothered me, that one word arrogantly thrown in there, because it does two things. The first thing isn't so big, but it's real: It gets up the hopes -- and expectations -- of that team's fans that the player will be back on schedule, if not sooner, because that's what world-class athletes do after having "successful" surgery.

The second implication is worse. It puts the onus on the player, in this case Russell Westbrook, to come back on time. That one little word, issued in a public statement to the world -- hey everybody, the surgery was "successful" -- tells the athlete that he's on the clock. The doctor did his job, Westbrook ... the rest is on you.

And in this case, no, it wasn't.

In the big picture this is a small thing, and I know it. Instead of being ready for the first game, as everyone assumed after his first "successful" surgery, Westbrook will miss the first 4-6 weeks of the regular season. That's about 14-20 games. Those games could cost the Thunder home-court advantage at some point in the playoffs, which would sort of be a big deal, but again, big picture, Westbrook needing a second surgery isn't enormous. It's not an outrage. I'm not offended by his medical status.

But I am offended by the arrogance.

For years I've read these press releases from teams hailing that a surgery was "successful" in the hours after it was performed, as if anyone -- even the surgeon who performed it -- knows that. If by "successful" the surgeon means he or she didn't drop a scalpel into the wound, fine. If by "successful" the surgeon means the procedure was performed on the correct appendage, terrific.

But if by "successful" the surgeon -- and by extension, the team -- is saying the surgery went off without a hitch ... well, not fine. Because how could they possibly know? They can't possibly know that soon, and I present (and then rest) my case with the following:

Russell Westbrook's "successful surgery" on April 27 didn't go off without a hitch.

It went off without a stitch being tight enough. That loose stitch, according to the Thunder, explains why Westbrook has had swelling in the knee and needed a second surgery.

The second surgery was performed Tuesday. The team announced it in a press release that was headlined: "Westbrook Undergoes Successful Surgery."

The first sentence Tuesday reads as follows: "Oklahoma City Thunder guard Russell Westbrook underwent successful surgery earlier today to repair a lateral meniscus tear in his right knee."

Sure he did. Maybe. But I've heard that before. I heard it April 27. In fact, here's the headline from the official OKC Thunder press release after the April 27 surgery:

"Westbrook Undergoes Successful Surgery."

 
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