By Lisa Zimmerman, Player Engagement Insider
Mark Adickes’ Twitter handle sums up his career history: @JocktoDoc. The former guard for the Kansas City Chiefs and Washington Redskins is now an orthopedic surgeon, following a nine-year professional football career, including seven in the NFL.
The son of a career Army chaplain who spent many years deployed in Germany, Adickes played his first football on Army little league teams and then for American Army high schools in Berlin and Munich. In his junior year, the family returned to the United States where Adickes graduated from Killeen High School in Killeen, Texas.
Through all those years, Adickes never gave much thought to what career he might want to pursue. When college recruiters began showing up at his high school, he realized that football would be a way to attend college for free. Things progressed from there with Adickes earning a scholarship to Baylor University.
“When I started high school, I had no designs on Division I football,” Adickes said. “Then I realized I could go for free. When I went to college, I decided I wanted to be a football coach when I grew up. Then I started playing and I tore my knee up my sophomore year. Then there was a game when I had to block (Texas A&M defensive end) Jacob Green, and I did pretty well. Then, Green gets drafted in the first round (of the 1980 NFL Draft) and that was my light bulb moment. At that point I decided I wanted to be a professional football player.”
A successful career at Baylor where he earned an All-American selection, put him on the road toward his goal of playing professional football. In 1984 that goal was reached when Adickes signed with the Los Angeles Express of the now-defunct USFL. He spent two years in Los Angeles, blocking for future Hall-of-Fame quarterback Steve Young and playing on the offensive line with future Hall-of-Fame guard Gary Zimmerman.
In 1986, with the USFL having ceased operations, Adickes signed with the Chiefs where he played for the next four seasons. He moved on to Washington, where he earned a Super Bowl ring in 1991, but following the 1992 season, which he spent on injured reserve, he retired.
Adickes was 30 and it was time to decide what was next.
“In my last season, my back went out and I was having numbness in my legs, and I thought, ‘This is enough,’” Adickes recalled. “I thought, ‘What do I do for the rest of my life? Do I buy a franchise? Buy a business? Do I do sales?’ I have no doctors in my family, but I wanted to do something where I could tie my two careers together. It came between physical therapy school or become an orthopedic surgeon to be a knee surgeon.”
Adickes decided to become an orthopedic surgeon. But, it took a while. He didn’t have the appropriate prerequisite science classes for medical school so, newly married and with a pregnant wife, he enrolled at George Mason University.
“My friends thought I was crazy,” Adickes laughed.
Three years later, upon completion of those requirements, and passing the MCAT (the medical school entry exam), Adickes, at that point 35 years old, applied to, and was accepted by, Harvard Medical School.
Today, Adickes is an orthopedic surgeon, and the Chief of Sports Medicine and an associate professor of orthopedic surgery at Baylor College of Medicine. He has previously served as team physician for the Houston Rockets, United States Ski Team, Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo, and University of St. Thomas (Texas).
While he was in medical school, the idea of eventually doing sports medicine analysis on television was broached to Adickes. He subsequently worked for the Resort Sports Network and FOX NFL Sunday. He currently does analysis for DirectTV’s NFL Sunday Ticket and for ESPN during the NFL season.
But his main focus and time is spent in his medical career. Having undergone several surgeries of his own, Adickes can empathize with his patients, which he thinks is advantageous in helping them.
“I think it makes a huge difference,” he said. “The art of medicine, when practiced appropriately, is you should treat your patients the way you would want to be treated. So, it changes the indications for surgery. I’m pretty conservative. I know what everything feels like. It makes a difference to my patients and how I practice medicine. I love my job. I got into this as a fully- formed adult. I love doing ESPN, but if I could only do one thing I would see patients and do surgery above anything else.”
Although his medical career was something he hadn’t envisioned in his earlier years, Adickes now can’t imagine doing anything else.
“It’s very, very gratifying,” he said. “I enjoy working hard. My favorite thing about medicine is the guys I look up to are into their 80s. A lot of people I socialize with have no intention of retiring because they love it so much. You feel real gratification about making people well.”
He also credits his football career with leading him into medicine and encourages his NFL peers to find something they love and can put their all into when their playing days are over.
“I think we were designed to be busy and productive and if you’re not, it’s tough,” he said. “They’ve shown you can exercise your brain and improve your cognitive abilities by staying engaged and challenging yourself. I was going to do something. I was going to find something to do that was challenging and exciting and engaging. If you’re not accomplishing anything and you’re not working, it’s hard to be happy.”
Lisa Zimmerman is a long-time NFL writer and reporter. She was the Jets correspondent for CBSSports.com, SportsNet New York’s TheJetsBlog.com and Sirius NFL Radio. She has also written for NFL.com.