Leading Cardiologist: Myocarditis Shouldn't Stop Big Ten From Playing Football

Eric Rutter

As COVID-19 and myocarditis concerns continue to influence both public opinion and the direction of college football going forward, Venk Murthy, who is the Rubenfire Professor of Preventive Cardiology at the University of Michigan Cardiovascular Center, finds it prudent to carefully parse through the data to determine what is actually useful.

Recently, the Journal of American Medical Association released a study warning the public about how contracting the COVID-19 virus could lead to heart problems down the road, such as myocarditis. This study has made the rounds and was used as a primary source to reinforce the postponement of Big Ten football from the Fall.

However, Murthy sought to fact check this study because he believed it was being used in a way that did not properly reflect the information conveyed. And with a situation as crucial as this one, adhering to the utmost standards of accuracy is absolutely critical.

“The cardiac MRI study of COVID patients recently published in JAMA cardiology has a number of issues,” Murthy told Wolverine Digest. “The most serious of them are irregularities in the statistics which suggest either serious errors or perhaps even manipulation. These were identified by Prof. Darrel Francis and Graham Cole, cardiologists at Imperial College London.”

According to Murthy, these statistical red flags could have been used to form a more scathing conclusion about how dangerous myocarditis is when viewed through the lens of COVID-19 as a whole. Unfortunately, questions regarding the study did not cease there. 

“In addition, I am concerned even the controls they used seem to have very high rates of abnormalities like moderate to large amounts of fluid around the heart which would not be expected in normal individuals,” Murthy said.

As part of any scientifically viable study, JAMA outlined a group of controls to use as a baseline for the research, but Murthy suggests that this, too, may have missed the mark.

“Finally, most of the abnormalities they identify have not been defined as medically actionable and may have limited or no long term consequence,” Murthy said. “This is particularly a concern in elite athletes where many subtle abnormalities can be found either acutely after events like marathons or chronically with both blood tests and MRI scans. We don't know if these are bad signs or neutral.”

In short, there is not enough concrete information regarding the heart issues that have been dubbed myocarditis to truly determine how large of a warning sign the heart condition actually is. The scientific information at play is growing on a daily basis, but Murthy indicates that there is not enough information present to discern its relevance.

But on a larger scale, football is a game played among high level athletes and is a full contact sport that puts individual health on the line each time a player straps up his chinstrap. The physical consequences of playing tackle football are pronounced and need to be weighed in conjunction with the perceived added danger of playing during the COVID-19 era.

“The decision about allowing kids to play is very complex and involves many risks other than myocarditis,” Murthy said. “So, while the Big 10 decision very well be the correct one based on the many complex issues at hand, I don't believe the decision should be based on this myocarditis paper. In truth, I would probably have more concern about CTE than COVID myocarditis.”

It is particularly telling that the coronavirus pandemic has not overtaken the latent dangers of football in Murthy's opinion. While the situation at hand is notably serious, the JAMA study should not be used to disqualify football from taking place this fall.

This is another example of the Big Ten rushing to judgment without having the requisite facts on the table. Murthy is a leading expert in the field, and he is not convinced that the JAMA study is conclusive or even entirely accurate and therefore cannot be used as a legitimate, authoritative review of COVID-19 and myocarditis.

What are your thoughts on the Big Ten's decision to postpone football? Do you think it was done in haste? Let us know! 

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Comments (5)
No. 1-3

I'm a skeptic. So many people, including doctors have lied about COVID for political purposes, that includes the severity, the number of people infected, the number of people that have died. It appears that no can tell the truth any longer. Maybe it's time to just stop sports altogether. After all, sports is becoming infected with the worst type of disease; Politics.


Eduardo Rogriguez age 27. Mo Bamba age 22. Brady Feeney age 19 Mikele Colasurdo age 19. All elite athletes who have had their seasons (and perhaps careers) shut down because of Covid-19 myocarditis. Reportedly a dozen other cases known to B1G medical advisory board. US leading expert in the MRI methodology used in the JAMA Cardiology study acknowledged what are in actuality minor controversies about the study and concluded that important heart damage was truly demonstrated in 1/3 of the randomly selected patients studied. Also 60% showed elevated inflammatory markers average of 71 days post infection, suggesting smoldering infection. Also must be evaluated in context with what we know of Covid-19 immunology, including indication that infected host cells can escape elimination by immune T cells, by a mechanism similar to what happens in HIV, which would make eradication by the immune system much more difficult than in case of seasonal flu. Additionally, there are a rapidly accumulating number of young people who are so called "long haulers," who have persistent disease symptoms and physical debilitation. Finally, it's well known that high intensity athletic training exacerbates myocarditis. High risk of infected players inflicting greater damage to their hearts.

Taken all together, it would be nuts to rush into a Fall season. Let the SEC be the human guinea pigs, if they are so determined. By winter, we are very likely to have 3rd generation ultra rapid ultra cheap tests, which, in principle, every person in Ann Arbor could "take" every day. Also, there will be easily a half dozen new studies doing deep dive into myocarditis problem. We will know much more.

I personally predict SEC season will crash and burn (hopefully not inflicting too much human carnage). I furthermore predict the the B1G will succeed in completing a Winter/Spring season and, in the end, Warren and the B1G will be vindicated with regard to their wise decision to postpone.


I'll believe the other 99% of the doctors and scientists. Until a "conclusive study" is found, all errors have to be on the side of caution. I don't want even one kid to die for my entertainment. I can do without football for a season if that's the way it plays out.