IU cardiologist plays key role in NFL Combine screenings 

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Posted at 11:41 AM, Mar 05, 2024
and last updated 2024-03-05 11:41:48-05

INDIANAPOLIS — The NFL Combine is one of the first orders of business when it comes to the NFL off season, but one of the most important pieces of it is the health screenings.

When the more than 350 athletes land in Indy one of the first people they see is Dr. Richard Kovacs.

Kovacs is a cardiologist at IU Methodist, but for the last 30 years he turns his attention to future NFL players when the combine comes to town. He coordinates the cardiac testing for combine players.

"We come in early and stay late and get 350 some odd athletes evaluated in short order," said Kovacs. "Based on those findings we arrange for any additional testing that’s needed to make sure they can compete safely."

Kovacs says the risk of cardiac arrest in the NFL is about 1 in 10 thousand, but taking precaution is necessary.

It’s a balancing act because the players that come through combine if a cardiac screening finds an abnormality that’s a career changing event, so we balance allowing them to compete at the level and in the sport that they love with doing it safely," said Kovacs.

Kovacs says each year brings a different challenge and testing has changed over the years. The athletes continue to get bigger, faster, and stronger.

What happens to an athletes heart when they train and compete at this level their hearts are different, they look different, they perform differently and sometimes a non-expert can see an athletes heart, an NFL players heart, and say this is heart disease and it’s not,” said Kovacs.

Kovacs also uses his platform to advocate for AEDs being more accessible and people learning hands only CPR. He says if you have a high school athlete make sure they get their examinations and recognize abnormal signs and symptoms. Passing out during competition is a tell tale sign.

Once all the combine athletes are on the field safely Kovacs says it’s a proud moment.

“Personalizing the evaluation and making sure we have done everything right so that these players who come in can compete in a sport they love is the most gratifying thing,” said Kovacs.