Bley plays key role in helping DIAA make decision

High school fall sports teams in Delaware are still waiting to hear when they’ll be able to take the field. Special to the Delaware State News/Gary Emeigh

DOVER — Pretty much every injured athlete that Dr. Bradley Bley has ever worked with wants to hear the same thing.

They want Bley to tell them they’re ready to play again.

So when Bley has to tell them they can’t play, it’s never easy.

“That’s always the hardest conversation,” he said. “Nobody likes to hear that they have a major injury and they have to sit out.

Bradley Bley

“But I think there’s a little understanding. … They have a goal and objective to work towards. ‘OK, if I do this physical therapy and we get this taken care of, I can get back eventually.’”

That’s what makes dealing with the current coronavirus pandemic so frustrating for high school student-athletes.

There is no injury to attack and work through. There’s only an invisible disease that needs to be held at bay to keep the community safe.

Sometime, probably next week, the Delaware Interscholastic Athletic Association is expected to finalize its plan for playing — or not playing — high school fall sports over the next few months. Gov. John Carney still has to announce at what level schools will be open first.

Through all the debate about when it will be safe to play again, Bley finds himself in an interesting position.

As the only member of the 20-person DIAA board of directors with a medical degree, the 41-year-old sports medicine specialist is frequently at the center of the discussion.

Contending with a potentially-deadly virus pandemic is hardly what Bley pictured when he joined the board four years ago.

“With coronavirus, things are changing on a daily basis,” said Bley, who is board-certified in internal medicine, pediatrics and sports medicine. “So you constantly have to be up on what’s being published by the CDC and what the governor is allowing and what the Division of Public Health is recommending.

“It’s definitely been a lot. I’ve definitely been on my email and on phone calls a lot more than I was before for this.”

While Bley is just one voice in the Zoom call and the DIAA does consult with other medical personnel, board member Dr. Kevin Fitzgerald said it’s been nice having someone with Bley’s background directly involved in the meetings.

“Having Dr. Bley on the board is a tremendous asset,” said Fitzgerald, the Caesar Rodney superintendent. “He does bring a perspective that none of us have. He can tell us what the guidance is, what the latest medical opinions are that help form our decisions.”

Growing up outside Buffalo, N.Y., Bley played football and soccer and was still playing adult ice hockey before the pandemic. The Wilmington resident is also the former head team doctor for the Delaware State football team (2012-16) and has a pair of sons, ages 10 and six, who play youth sports.

So he understands how frustrating this situation is for players and their parents. With school sports sometimes the only activity available for kids, he also knows the important role they can play.

“One of the things that is important to me is making sure that we try to provide those opportunities,” said Bley, who works for Delaware Orthopedic Specialists. “That’s one of the things we weigh as a benefit of sports — making sure our athletes who otherwise can’t compete in sports have equal opportunity.

Bradley Bley was the DSU football team’s doctor in 2012-16. Submitted photo

“As we know, sports are helpful for leadership skills and team building and role modeling. That’s an unfortunate side effect of not having sports continue to go.”

With that in mind, Bley said he would love to say it’s OK to return to competition — but only when it can be done safely.

The interesting thing about this situation, said Bley, is the biggest concern is the virus’ impact on the community, not necessarily the student-athletes themselves.

“It appears that the risk for our student-athletes is very low,” Bley said. “But it’s the risk of spreading it to other people, which is something we don’t normally look at as a committee.”

Usually, in deciding whether an athlete is ready to return from an injury, the doctor weighs the risk-reward of the situation. To help them evaluate the risk, they’ll rely on years of study and data in making the decision.

But the coronavirus is so new that there’s really only a few months of information available on it.

“We are trying our hardest,” said Bley. “It’s a new disease and we’re all learning as we go. We’re getting new evidence on a daily basis. That makes it difficult.

“But we’re trying to do what we can to get our athletes cleared. Our objective is to get them playing as soon as possible because sports have so many other good benefits besides just the fun of competing.”