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Joseph Steven Torg, M.D.
Renowned Orthopedic Surgeon and Sports Medicine Pioneer – “the father of Sports Medicine”
October 25, 1934 – December 15, 2022
A Service to celebrate Dr. Torg's life and legacy will be held at the William Penn Charter School, 3000 W. School House Lane, Philadelphia, PA 19144 on Saturday, January 21, 2023.
Celebration of Life Service
Joseph S. Torg, M.D.
Saturday, January 21, 2023, 11:30am
William Penn Charter School, Main Building
3000 W. School House Lane, Philadelphia, PA 19144
11:00 am: Doors open
11:30am: Service begins (Worship Room, Main Building)
12:45/1:00 pm: Reception (Gummere Library, Main Building)
2:15 pm: Departure
Joseph S. Torg, M.D., renowned orthopedic surgeon and sports medicine pioneer, recognized by many as the “father of Sports Medicine,” passed away peacefully at home on December 15, 2022. He was 88 years old.
He was the former team physician for the Philadelphia Eagles, 76ers, and Flyers, and the founder of the Temple University Center for Sports Medicine and Science, the first university-based sports medicine center in the country. Dr. Torg had a reputation as a pioneer, mentor, and philanthropist. His focus on injury prevention resulted in tremendous impacts on orthopedics and sports medicine. He spearheaded clinical research that ultimately saved scores of professional, college, high school, and grade school athletes from serious, life-altering injuries.
A graduate of Haverford College and Temple University School of Medicine, Dr. Torg may be best known for his groundbreaking research on spinal cord injuries that led the National Football League (NFL) and the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) to implement rules prohibiting spear tackling, a change that saved countless young athletes from paralysis (quadriplegia). His research into head and neck injuries was the basis for concussion protocols adopted by the NFL, the NCAA and the National Hockey League (NHL).
Dr. Torg is also widely known for his influence in the landmark decision that allowed girls to participate in one of the world’s largest organized sports programs, Little League Baseball. He pioneered innovations in athletic equipment, including football cleats and athletic shoes, that led to rule changes by the National Football League (NFL), the National Collegiate Athletic
Association (NCAA), and the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS), ultimately reducing knee injuries. In addition, he was a pioneer in the use of the arthroscope for minimally invasive surgery.
A tireless researcher and writer, Dr. Torg, in collaboration with many colleagues, published more than 150 articles, 28 books, and 42 book chapters. He authored Athletic Injuries to the Head, Neck, and Face. One of his books, The Rehabilitation of Athletic Injuries, was published in several languages including Japanese, and he served as the associate editor for the Year Book of Sports Medicine for many years.
Dr. Torg served as the team physician for most of the Philadelphia professional sports teams, including the Philadelphia Flyers, Philadelphia Eagles, Philadelphia 76ers, Philadelphia Atoms, Philadelphia Fury, and Philadelphia Freedom. He cared for numerous well-known professional athletes, including basketball players Billy Cunningham, Doug Collins and Bill Baggett, former New York Jets defensive lineman Joe Klecko, professional wrestler Stone Cold Steve Austin, tennis players Billie Jean King and Kathy Jordan, ultra-marathoner Chris McDougall, and professional heavyweight boxer Tex Cobb.
It was through Tex Cobb that Dr. Torg met his favorite country and western singer, Willie Nelson. Speaking of musicians, Dr. Torg even treated lead U2 singer Bono, who suffered an injury during a performance in Philadelphia.
In addition to caring for professional athletes, Dr. Torg contributed numerous pro bono hours caring for Philadelphia public and parochial high school football teams, as well as for young children at St. Christopher’s Hospital for Children, Episcopal Hospital and Shriner’s Hospital for Children.
In 1972, Dr. Torg, along with Temple head athletic trainer, Ted Quedenfeld, founded the Temple University Center for Sports Medicine and Science, the first sports medicine center affiliated with a university. In 1978, he was appointed Professor of Orthopaedic Surgery and Director of the University of Pennsylvania Sports Medicine Program, where he initiated what is believed to be the first Sports Medicine Fellowship. He trained over 36 fellows, some of whom opened sports medicine centers at medical schools, universities, and hospitals across the country. His career included faculty appointments at Temple University School of Medicine, University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, and MCP Hahnemann University School of Medicine. He was also on staff at St Christopher’s Hospital and Shriners Hospital for Children.
The son of Jay Torg, an insurance salesman, and Elva May Torg, a telephone operator, Joe Torg was born and raised in Philadelphia. He was the grandson of Joseph Torg and Esther Ulanski, who emigrated to the United States from what was then Elizabethgrad, Russia, now Kropyvnytskyi, Ukraine, in 1900, aboard the S.S. Bismarck with their four children, including
Joe’s father, Jay. Joe was also the grandson of Joseph May and Agnes Dunn. Joe May was a minor league baseball player who made his living driving a truck in the Kensington section of Philadelphia. As a young boy, Dr. Torg spent lots of time with his Grandad May, who he described as “one hell of a guy,” including time at his cabin on the Woodbury Creek in National Park, New Jersey and driving around in his truck and stopping to get hot dogs for lunch.
Dr. Torg attended Central High School in Philadelphia, where he played varsity football. However, due to a concussion which impacted his academics, when it came time for graduation in the spring of 1952, he did not graduate. Thanks to support from his Central High School coach Stanley Peffle, William Penn Charter School coach and teacher Duke Taylor, and Penn Charter Overseer Archibald MacIntosh, he was admitted to Penn Charter on scholarship to complete his studies. It was a transformative year in his life. He thrived academically and graduated in 1953.
Dr. Torg went on to Haverford College where he continued his football career and became the first in his family to receive a college degree. It was there that he met his soon-to-be wife, Barbara Groenendaal, then a student and four sport varsity athlete at the University of Pennsylvania. The two met on a blind date and continued to date through college and summers working in Atlantic City. They married in 1959 and together raised three children, Joseph, Elisabeth (“Betsy”), and Jay.
After Haverford, Joe went to Temple University for medical school, to San Francisco General Hospital for his internship, and then back to Temple for his orthopedic residency. He was the founding director of the Temple University Center for Sports Medicine and Science, the first in the country affiliated with a university, which provided care for the athletes of Philadelphia. During this period, he published his research on the effect of the shoe-surface interface and its relationship to football knee injuries, research which was directly responsible for both the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS) and the National Collegiate
Athletic Association (NCAA) to mandate cleats no longer than one-half inch.
Dr. Torg’s landmark cervical spine research determined that spearing and head-down contact led to catastrophic cervical spine and cord injuries. On the basis of analysis of data from the National Football Head and Neck Injury Registry, Dr. Torg recommended rule changes that resulted in a marked decrease of cervical spine injuries. He also described cervical cord neuropraxia resulting in transient quadriplegia as a distinct, benign clinical entity. On the basis of his analysis of the registry injury data and his understanding of cervical spine injury mechanism, Dr. Torg published criteria for the return to activity participation following cervical spine injury.
His published description of the Lachman’s Test for anterior cruciate ligament instability, which he attributed to his mentor, teacher, and professor John Lachman, M.D., educated orthopedists about what is perhaps the most important physician exam maneuvers in orthopedics and may be one of the most accurate tests in all of medicine.
Dr. Torg received numerous awards and accolades throughout his career. Dr. Torg was inducted into the American Orthopedic Society of Sports Medicine Hall of Fame in 2005. Five years prior, The Philadelphia Sports Medicine Congress instituted The Joseph Torg for Sports Medicine Excellence Award to recognize individual orthopedic surgeons primarily in the greater Philadelphia area, who devoted their careers to the care of athletes, who participated in the educational process and who have made significant contributions to the body of knowledge of orthopedics, qualities that were embodied by Dr. Torg.
In the twilight of his career, in 2001, Dr. Torg founded The John Lachman Society to honor his mentor John Lachman and propagate his principles of integrity, teaching, and excellent patient care. The Society supports and promotes students who attend the Lewis Katz School of Medicine at Temple University as well as Temple University Hospital Orthopaedic Residents through the John Lachman Orthopaedic Research Fund. The Society’s John Lachman Orthopaedic Research Fund provides financial support for medical student and orthopedic resident research, resident expenses for paper/poster presentations at accredited scientific
meetings, resident attendance at accredited meetings, award money at annual resident research day presentations, the publication and distribution of the Temple University Journal of Orthopaedic Surgery and Sports Medicine and the accredited medical student summer research program.
Following his retirement, Dr. Torg remained committed to the children and youth of Philadelphia. He funded several tuition scholarship programs for economically needy, academically talented youth. Along with his wife Barbara, Dr. Torg established the Joe Torg M.D. Endowed Scholarship Fund at Temple to underwrite full-tuition scholarships for bright, economically-challenged medical students who attend a secondary school in Philadelphia, as well as The Joe Torg OPC Scholarship Fund at William Penn Charter School which supports tuition aid for bright, economically-challenged students to attend the school.
A proud veteran, Dr. Torg served as a Captain in the United States Army Medical Corps from 1962-1964 in Hanau, Germany. He was Commanding Officer, 629 Medical Company, 36th Medical Battalion, V Corps, VII Army. He received an Honorable Discharge in May, 1968.
In addition to his professional career in orthopedics, Dr. Torg made his contribution to environmentalism. In 1997, along with his wife, he preserved 21 acres of threatened wetlands on Long Beach Island, New Jersey. A visit to the Long Beach Island Foundation of Arts and Sciences on LBI reveals a nature path leading out to the Joe Torg Wetlands, where visitors can view osprey, egrets, and a variety of shorebirds and other creatures.
Dr. Torg was an avid, self-taught sailor who raced Cat Boats in both New Jersey and Florida. He was a do-it-yourself kind of guy, who took great pride in finding anything on sale.
Dr. Torg was happiest spending time on Long Beach Island, New Jersey with his wife, Barbara, where they spent over 40 years enjoying time with their family at the beach, sailing, and enjoying the view of Barnegat Bay.
Dr. Torg is survived by his wife of 63 years, Barbara, their three children Joseph (Kathy), Betsy (Mark Taranta), and Jay (Cynthia), and their seven grandchildren Rachal Torg, Joseph S. Torg, III, Leif Taranta, Nadia Taranta, William Torg, Daniel Torg, and Carrie Torg.
Contributions in Dr. Torg’s honor can be made to one or more of the following: The Joe Torg Endowed Scholarship Fund at Temple’s Lewis Katz School of Medicine, The Joe Torg OPC Scholarship Fund at William Penn Charter School, or to The John Lachman Orthopedic Research Fund.
Burial at Arlington Cemetery in Drexel Hill, PA will be held privately by the family.
Photo Credit Joseph Routen
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