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I WAS ON the ESPN website the other day when I saw a video of JJ Watt announcing his plans to seek employment with a new team after playing with the Houston Texans for 10 years. For the few people who have not heard of JJ Watt, he is a perennial NFL all-pro and 3-time NFL defensive player of the year. “I sat down with [the ownership group], and we have mutually agreed to part ways.” He then started to say how well everyone has treated him in Houston: “The way you guys have treated me….” He then paused for a moment to carefully consider his next words: “…besides draft night. You booed me on draft night, but every day after that you treated me like family.” As I watched JJ deliver an inconvenient truth about the cruel reception he received on draft night, it occurred to me that we clinicians can learn a lot from his words. The truth is not always pretty, but we are obligated to tell it. JJ then continued by saying how grateful he was to be loved and supported by the organization, fans, teammates, friends, and community, and concluded with,“Thank you Houston, I love you.” With just a few words, JJ showed how truth sometimes should be tempered with love and compassion. Oscar Wilde said, “Life imitates Art.” However, for empathic clinicians, the art of medicine sometimes imitates the lives of world-class athletes.


During a recent virtual video visit with a patient with metastatic cancer, I noticed a framed JJ Watt jersey hanging on the wall behind him. I had never met the patient, so I introduced myself as usual and said, “Wow, I noticed you have a framed JJ Watt jersey hanging on the wall behind you along with several other mementos. You have a very nice collection there.” He said, “Oh, yeah, thanks.” Then we started talking about Watt's potential future as a free agent.

I started: “Man, I sure am going to miss seeing him play for the Texans. He is the face of the organization. He has had a Hall of Fame career, but he hasn't gotten a championship ring yet. While I hate to see him go, I suppose he's making the right decision to join a team he thinks can win the Super Bowl. Where do you think JJ will end up next season?”

He replied: “I think he will try to join his brothers in Pittsburgh.”

“Yes, I suppose so, but I think he would prefer to play for Green Bay so he can return to Wisconsin, where he grew up and played college ball.”

He said, “I can't argue with that. Especially since he would get to play with one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time in Green Bay. Of ...

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