Investigation: The Curious Case Of Greg Oden And Zig Ziegler

An investigation into Zig Ziegler, who provided treatment to Greg Oden.

The Portland Trail Blazers have dealt with an endless series of injuries in recent years and, hand in hand, an endless series of questions from fan and media critics who assert the team's players have not received proper medical attention.

But they've never dealt with anyone quite like Larry Wayne "Zig" Ziegler.

Who Is Zig Ziegler?

Ziegler is not Zig Ziglar, a well-known motivational sales speaker with a similar name. Ziegler is a sports kinesiologist, currently based in Arizona, who ran a fitness assessment company called Motion DNA for more than a decade. Ziegler has worked with athletes at the high school, college and professional levels as well as with amateurs. Ziegler's company uses motion-tracking technology to identify movement deficiencies caused by problems with an athlete's form. His technology has also been used to assess athletes as they recover from injuries. Ziegler is also an aspiring fitness reality television show host.

In Dec. 2011, the Blazers used their amnesty clause on All-Star guard Brandon Roy when knee problems forced him into retirement. In March, Portland released center Greg Oden after he underwent five knee surgeries during his five seasons with the team.

In response to those injuries and roster moves, Ziegler published an extensive and explosive account of his professional relationship with the Blazers, which dates back to August 2008, on his blog last week. In the post, Ziegler wrote that he was contacted by then Blazers assistant GM Tom Penn and contracted to perform biomechanical evaluations of Oden in Los Angeles in an attempt to determine whether he was ready to return to the court for the 2008-2009 season. Ziegler wrote that he later performed similar tests on the Blazers in Portland and that his recommendations were "laughed at" by Portland's medical staff.

League sources have confirmed to Blazersedge that Ziegler, who has conducted similar assessments on professional athletes in a number of sports, was contracted by the Blazers in 2008 to provide biomechanical assessments for Oden first and then a number of Blazers. Prior to this work, Ziegler assessed the free throw shooting stroke of then Phoenix Suns center Shaquille O'Neal on at least one occasion, an encounter documented by a local news station and confirmed by a league source with knowledge of the relationship. Ziegler has also worked with Arizona Cardinals receiver Anquan Boldin, as documented in a separate local news feature.

Penn, now an ESPN analyst, declined to comment to Blazersedge, either with regard to the content of Ziegler's post or the nature of his contact with Ziegler. A spokesperson for the Blazers declined comment to Blazersedge concerning Ziegler and his claims on multiple occasions, citing the organization's policy not to discuss the private medical information of its players.

In an email exchange and multiple telephone conversations with Blazersedge -- the first conducted last Thursday, a follow-up conducted on Wednesday -- Ziegler went into further detail about his relationship with the Blazers, he passed along portions of the biomechanical testing results for Oden, Roy and former Blazers guard Rudy Fernandez, and he offered an explanation for why he decided to go public with his account.

In Jan. 2012, as noted by Corvid, Ziegler was arrested in Arizona along with two co-defendants on charges of the sale of unregistered securities and financial fraud. [See update below]

Last week, Ziegler retained Ashley Adams of AZWhiteCollarCrime.com, a Scottsdale criminal defense attorney. Adams explained the criminal charges to Blazersedge on Wednesday and said that her initial impression of Ziegler is that he came across as a "nice guy."

"The allegations date back to some time in 2007," she said. "The allegations basically are that he was engaged in the unregistered sale of securities. There is an allegation of fraud but it alleges conspiracy such that all of the defendants named in the indictment are responsible for the other defendants' action. Mr. Ziegler's defense is that he didn't have much, if anything, to do with the machinations of the other two defendants. The Motion DNA and the software is Mr. Ziegler's creation and what he's been doing for the last 10 or 15 years. These other two defendants came in and solicited large amounts of money, primarily from investors that Mr. Ziegler had never met. That's kind of it in a nutshell."

"I'll let the legal proceedings work their course," Ziegler said on Wednesday. "The expectation is that I will be proven a victim of the co-defendants in the case. That's about the only thing I can say on that."

Adams and Ziegler both stated that the fraud charge pertained to alleged financial dealings rather than the technology used by Ziegler to assess athletes.

"That's correct," Adams said. "Let me preface this by saying I was only retained last week. He had a public defender and I have just begun review of the discovery. I do believe based on the allegations in the indictment that that is correct."

"Nothing was related to the technology," Ziegler said.

Prior to the 2012 charges, Ziegler also was hit with a civil securities action in Arkansas and, in 2010, the Arizona Corporate Commission ordered that Ziegler pay more than $550,000 in restitution for securities fraud related to his Motion DNA company in a separate case. "The Commission found that while not registered to offer or sell securities in Arizona, Ziegler sold the investment program to at least five investors who thought they were buying stock in Motion DNA, but Ziegler provided investors with stock in other companies," its summary read. "Additionally, the Commission found that instead of using investor funds to register Motion DNA as a publicly traded company, Ziegler made mortgage payments and cash withdrawals."

Ziegler said on Wednesday that he had no open cases against him at the time of his work with the Blazers in August 2008.

On Ziegler's website, AWorldClassAthlete.com, there appears a promotional video for his prospective reality show with the same name. There also appears a logo for Fox Sports Net.

Lou D'Ermilio, the Senior Vice President of Communications for Fox Sports, told Blazersedge on Wednesday that the network is not planning to release a television program by that name and that its national and local programming departments do not have a professional relationship with Ziegler.

"We have not been in contact with him and we have no plans to broadcast this program on any Fox Sports affiliate," D'Ermilio said.

Ziegler said on Wednesday that the show is "in production" and that a production company he works with has handled the dealings with Fox. Ziegler offered to put the production company in contact with Blazersedge on Wednesday.

"Our previous show was on Fox Sports Network," he said. "They have done numerous shows for Fox Sports Network. That is a contract of theirs and not mine. If you contacted Fox, they will say, 'Zig who?' It's not my name or my company on the contract, it's their contract."

Why Did Zig Ziegler Decide To Go Public?

Before laying out the specifics of Ziegler's account of his experience with the Blazers, the obvious question is: In an industry as private as health care and another industry as high-profile as professional sports, why would someone come forward and disclose the personal medical information of a well-known professional athlete?

Ziegler sees himself as a whistle-blower who could no longer keep quiet about the injuries suffered by members of the Blazers. His training and treatment approach is based on addressing and working to prevent injuries by seeing the body as one inter-related system, where a muscle weakness or imbalance in one area can lead to injuries in a different area. He believes that approach could have helped a number of Blazers.

"Somebody has to sound the wake up call," Ziegler said. "In a major situation like this, there's always someone who speaks up and makes people pay attention. Unfortunately I've had to sit back and watch athletes I've assessed repeatedly suffer injuries that I said they would suffer unless they did something to address the imbalances. This isn't about me looking for attention to myself, it's more about me bringing attention to the problem that we've got. I've worked with athletes in football, basketball, baseball, all major sports. It's not just basketball, it's not just the Portland Trail Blazers and what their medical staff might be seeing. It's a problem in sports at all levels. We just want to get the athlete back on the court. The problem with professional sports is that it's a business and at some point you have to say, 'I'm going to cut my losses because something is not working.' This is a wake up call to the industry."

Ziegler said that he was only able to publicly discuss the matter because he was no longer confined by a three-year confidentiality and non-disclosure agreement that he says recently expired. He said that he has not had a professional relationship with any of the Blazers players since he tested them in 2008, although he said that he was contacted by Penn about possibly revisiting the testing process shortly before Penn was fired in March 2010.

Ziegler said that he wrote his post and conducted the interviews knowing that the Blazers would attempt to distance themselves from his claims. At no point in writing his account did he believe he was exposing himself to legal action from the Blazers or their players.

"It did not cross my mind," Ziegler said. "I don't feel like I've done anything except communicate actual facts as I recall them. That was the only thing that was done."

He said Wednesday that he does not fear any legal ramifications. "At the moment, no," Ziegler said. "Other than you bringing it up for the first time."

In an email, Ziegler also stated that he no longer has the desire to work with professional sports teams. "I no longer have any desire to work with professional athletes or teams as a result of the lack of control over what the athletes will be required to do to make improvements," he wrote. "I see no potential to gain or benefit from releasing this information [except] to ease my own conscience and make people aware that something is wrong in the world of sports at all levels.

"My writings serve the purpose of educating the public and all involved about the problems we have in care of injuries, fitness and medicine. Pro athletes are just people too and even they receive subpar medical care. Fitness, physical medicine, and physical therapy as a whole need a complete overhaul. The shift has to be made towards creating an objective system to measure the physical well being of individuals seeking care. The current system is broken and needs to be fixed to prevent more situations like this."

What Does Zig Ziegler Say Happened Between Himself And The Blazers?

Ziegler said that his goal in publishing his account "wasn't to discredit or take away from the Portland Trail Blazers or their medical staff." Despite those expressed intentions, Ziegler's account does not paint the organization and its medical staff in a particularly favorable light.

His story portrays an organization that took a confrontational rather than open-minded approach to his evaluations, an organization with a key medical staff member fearing for his job on at least one occasion, an organization that was informed that Oden had potentially been coached to cheat one of his tests, and an organization that initially seemed interested in following his rehabilitation recommendations before moving on without keeping him involved in the process.

Ziegler said that he agreed to test Oden shortly after he was first contacted by the Blazers. At that time, Oden, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2007 NBA Draft, was finishing up his rehabilitation from a microfracture surgery on his right knee that cost him his 2007-2008 rookie season. He had recently received clearance to resume basketball activities but Ziegler said that he was told that the team was looking for additional assurances that Oden was good to go.

Ziegler's tests use motion capture technology as a subject walks, runs, throws and squats. They are essentially standardized and can be given to anyone. They provide functional range of motion grades on a 1-to-100 scale. Ziegler said Oden was a willing participant in the first round of tests, which involved involve walking on a treadmill at various speeds and inclines, and were conducted at a Beverly Hills hotel in August 2008.

"Greg was the nicest, politest, most respectable, 'Yes sir, no sir, thank you sir'," Ziegler recalled. "I was really impressed with him as a person. I have been around a lot of athletes over the years and you sense a lot of arrogance from some. I didn't get that from Greg at all. I sensed a very humble person who sounded like he had been raised properly. I informed him what we were going to be doing. Sometimes I get the feeling from athletes that, 'I have to do this anyway.' With him, I got the idea that he was genuinely interested in getting the test done to prove that he was actually ready to go."

Oden's results on the biomechanical testing "fell short" of average, Ziegler said, because the muscles around his right knee were not strong enough to provide proper balance and weight distribution. As a result, Oden's left knee was overcompensating, taking on an undue amount of stress and force, even during the simple walking portion of the test. At that point, Oden's left knee had not yet been operated on during his time with the Blazers.

"We looked at his left leg, which was considered healthy, and his right leg was doing nowhere near the same range of motion or accepting the same amount of work load and transferring that up to the rest of his body," Ziegler said.

Ziegler added the following details in a follow-up email: "Based on a comparison to ideal biomechanics, Greg failed his functional movement screen. The average Trail Blazer scored over 53% while Greg Oden scored 44% once and 37% and 36% on the two other trials."

The tests revealed, in Ziegler's opinion, that a particular series of strength-building exercises were needed before Oden should return to the court. He passed along those findings to Portland's staff during a dinner meeting and phone conversations. In those exchanges, Ziegler characterized Blazers trainer Jay Jensen as "defensive" and worried that perhaps his job was on the line because of the results of the initial test.

"In the initial telephone conversation with Jay, one of the things he said was, 'Am I in jeopardy?' Tom reiterated to him that he wasn't. Tom's goal was to make sure the athlete was really ready... Jay was defensive. His comment was, 'I'm doing most of what's on this list already.'"

Ziegler said that he responded by telling Jensen that he "was sure" Oden was already doing the exercises and repetitions -- and perhaps more -- but that he wanted the Blazers to focus on Oden's technique and attention to detail during the exercises because a failure to execute them properly would not produce the necessary improvements in muscle strength.

"I said to Jay, 'All I want you to do is spend a little more time and attention to detail on how he's doing the exercise and explain to him the importance of doing the exercise correctly as opposed to achieving the number of repetitions.' At that point, Jay said that he understood and he would begin to do that."

Ziegler, though, says now that he wasn't convinced at the time that his advice would be followed.

"With all due respect, and I know you record these [interviews]," he said. "You've got your assistant GM sitting on the phone and they just spent a few thousand dollars to get a test done on your athlete... You're pretty much going to say what you're supposed to say at that point, with all due respect to Jay."

His feelings from that phone call were not the only negative experience Ziegler recalled having with Portland's staff. At a meeting over a steak dinner near the Blazers' Tualatin practice facility, Ziegler said multiple members of Portland's medical staff openly laughed at him as they attempted to poke holes in his findings and recommendations.

"That meeting with them, the athletic trainer and the team doctor," Ziegler remembered, "Tom was late to dinner by about an hour, and in that hour, I tell you, I took ridicule, I took arrows and bullets that were all focused on discrediting the assessment and technology rather than trying to figure out how we came to the conclusions. The questions you're asking right now, I never got from them. When I made recommendations, they literally laughed at me."

Ziegler and Portland's staff disagreed, in particular, about whether Oden should be fitted with a full-length shoe lift that could help compensate for his "leg length discrepancy." Ziegler said he laid out his thoughts about how a lift could relieve pressure on Oden's ankle joint.

"I really took some time to explain that to them and the first comment out of the team doctor was, 'Nobody does a shoe lift. You've got to be kidding me. What are you thinking? Who's going to make that?'" Ziegler said that he suggested that Nike, Oden's sponsor, could make such an insert but the conversation was quickly dropped.

What Does Zig Ziegler Say Happened After His Assessments?

Less than three months later, on Oct. 28, 2008, Oden took the court for Portland's season opener against the Lakers in Los Angeles. He played 12 minutes and sprained his ankle, an injury that kept him out for the following two weeks.
Ziegler stopped short of saying that Oden was rushed back to the court. Instead, he said that Oden could have returned in the same amount of time if he had properly completed the strength building exercises that he had prescribed. But Ziegler said that a re-test of Oden showed that, while some progress had been made, it appeared that Oden had been coached to do certain things in an attempt to trick the walking portion of the test.

"He had achieved results that were impossible," Ziegler said. "I mentioned this to Tom, it looked as if someone told him what we were looking for on the test...Once we get into the running tests, the athletes forget about what they might have been trying to do to trick the test. They focus on running. His second set of running results were more in line with what we expected because he couldn't cheat them."

Ziegler decided to throw out the "impossible" results and recommended additional strength-building exercises.
"If I had been responsible for his return to the court, all due respect to what they are doing there," Ziegler said. "He would have gotten back on the court at the same time, but those injuries he's suffered since then, I can almost guarantee that those wouldn't have occurred."

In fact, Ziegler argues that Oden's left patellar fracture, suffered on a non-contact play in a Dec. 2009 game against the Houston Rockets, was linked to his failure to properly rehabilitate from the microfracture surgery on his right knee. The injury, Ziegler claims, was foreshadowed by other issues, such as reported tendonitis and pain in his left knee.

"At the time we did the first test, one of the things that Tom or Jay mentioned to me was that Greg was having tendinitis or pain or discomfort in his patella tendon," Ziegler said. "In my results, I indicated that the compensating on his left side for his right leg issues are contributing to that patella tendinitis. They were completely linked. Everything in the body is linked. If my right knee starts to bother me, the natural thing for the body, compensation, is to shift that load over to the other leg. That leg starts to get fatigued, that's when you start to develop those chronic injuries like patella tendinitis or Achilles tendinitis. That's one of Tiger Woods' issues, he has Achilles tendonitis because his right leg is still a problem. Same thing going on with Greg."

Ziegler agreed with a Beaverton kinesiologist's view that Oden's left leg was a "ticking time bomb" because of the strength imbalance in the muscles surrounding his right knee.

"That's exactly the phrase I would use," he said. "Some people call them scare tactics. I like to call it the truth. If you don't address these issues -- and I said this to the Blazers -- Greg will have a major injury in the next 12-15 months. Those were my words exactly, expressly as they were laughing at me. Laughing at the recommendations. At the end of the day, this is about Greg, this isn't about me or you guys. This is about Greg and what can we do to make it work, and Tom reiterated that."

What Does Zig Ziegler Advise Now?

After the patella fracture, Oden underwent a microfracture surgery on his left knee in Nov. 2010 after another non-contact incident during his rehabilitation process. In Feb. 2012, Oden underwent arthroscopic knee surgery on his right knee and, finally, another microfracture knee surgery on his left knee. He also developed blood clots in his left ankle that delayed his fifth knee surgery.

Despite that injury history, Ziegler said that Portland made the wrong decision in releasing Oden at the Mar. 15 trade deadline.

"If I were the Portland Trail Blazers, I wouldn't have cut him," he said. "I would not have cut him. What I would have done is figured out exactly what his issues are and began to address those issues. Even if it took me another year.... I would have kept him, I would have hired someone to work one-on-one with him. I know we see this in professional sports, where you hire someone to go out with the athlete on the weekends and to stay with them in a social setting. I would have hired someone to make sure that Greg Oden was doing exactly what he needed to do, eight hours a day for a year if I had to. I would get my investment back."

With years to reflect on his experiences with the Blazers, Ziegler sounded disappointed. In particular, he found Portland's refusal to provide additional one-on-one medical attention and what he perceived as its insistence on treating Oden like any other player to be confusing.

"Literally, I'm scratching my head as you're talking," Ziegler said. "Greg Oden's injuries are preventable and have been preventable from Day One. Unfortunately in Greg's case, which is the case with many athletes, you get stuck in following protocols, so to speak. By that I mean, if you tear an ACL, every insurance company, every doctor, every physical therapist has certain protocols they want you to follow. None of those protocols focus on addressing what might have contributed to the injury like a muscular imbalance. Right now, we try to do things with athletes in physical therapy and the medical setting, generically. And you can't. Especially when it comes to an athlete or a sports-related injury, you have to get more specific and start to try to figure out the root cause of the problem instead of following protocols."

Further, Ziegler suggested that Blazers owner Paul Allen did not commit sufficient resources and staff to Oden during his recovery period and that the Blazers were -- like many professional organizations -- in a position where staff members feared being catalysts of change.

"I know Portland's medical staff is doing the best they can with the situation and cards that they are dealt," he said. "This is more about a change to the industry that is needed. A change in particular to professional sports. This is more about that than making them look bad. I know they did the best that they can and I know in many cases, when I've dealt with official athletic trainers, the last thing they want to do is be the guy who tried to implement a change and screw something up... Maybe that means the Jay Jensens of the world and other athletic trainers out there who are tasked with trying to keep multimillion dollar athletes on the court or on the field, maybe that means they need more help, maybe they need a bigger staff. Maybe they need more support from ownership and management. That's probably what it really comes down to."

He said on Wednesday that he did not communicate with anyone besides Penn in Portland's management and that he wasn't sure how far up the chain of command his recommendations were reaching.

Where Do We Go From Here?

One model to follow, Ziegler suggested, is the one established by the well-regarded Phoenix Suns staff.

"The Phoenix Suns brought in Mike Clark and the National Academy of Sports Medicine. They rocked the boat, they shook things up. They've also kept athletes healthier."

After 45 minutes of conversation last week, Ziegler closed his account by acknowledging that he expected the Blazers would respond to his lengthy, detailed statements.

"They're going to say, 'We brought the guy in,' and hopefully they are going to say they paid attention and did everything they could," he predicted. "Hopefully they'll say that. I hate to think of them saying, 'We brought him in and we didn't buy that.' I would hate to hear them say that because everything in [my reports] has come true."

Instead, despite multiple requests, the Blazers have yet to officially say anything in response to questions about Ziegler.

Informed on Wednesday of their stance, Ziegler said that the silence didn't bother him. "My expectation is only that they are going to say what they feel is in their best interest," he said.

The question now: Is the silent treatment still in the organization's best interest?

Update (February 2013): Ziegler provided this update on his charges in Arizona to Blazersedge in February 2013.
In July of 2012, the Arizona Attorney General dropped criminal charges against Zig Ziegler, in exchange for a plea of guilty to two non-designated offenses for soliciting an unregistered agent to sell securities in his former company. All charges against Ziegler were dismissed and a plea agreement reached after Ziegler was able to demonstrate through financial records that investor funds which were under his control with his former company were used as he had advised investors and lenders they would be used.

Ziegler had always contended that he was not a co-conspirator of anyone's criminal activity in the case and is relieved to put the situation behind him and to be able to get back to a normal life of helping people recover from injuries and improve their quality of life and sport performance.

In an effort to avoid a long drawn out legal process and put the matter behind him, Ziegler reached the Plea Agreement. Under the plea agreement, Mr. Ziegler will be required to be complete unsupervised probation and to repay some of the investors and lenders. Upon successful completion of probation, the offenses are to be classified as misdemeanors upon designation by the court as part of the plea.

-- Ben Golliver | benjamin.golliver@gmail.com | Twitter
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