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Legacy of a Sports Legend

Ralph Wilson Jr.’s dedication to his players lives on in a new sports medicine center

Ralph Wilson Jr. and Mary Wilson.

By Mary Cochrane and Ann Whitcher Gentzke

“Mr. Wilson’s loyalty to his players was legendary.”
John Marzo, former Bills’ medical director

As an NFL team owner, Ralph Wilson Jr. witnessed firsthand the expertise of UB’s sports medicine faculty. For many years, these physicians served as team doctors for his beloved Buffalo Bills, evaluating and treating players on and off the field. Mary Wilson said her late husband, among the league’s longest-tenured owners, often noted that the Bills’ team doctors were “the most important players on the sidelines.”   

Wilson’s legacy of caring for athletes will endure, thanks in no small part to a $4 million gift to establish the Ralph C. Wilson Jr. Center for Excellence in Sports Medicine in the Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences. Announced last fall in Buffalo, the donation comes from the Ralph C. Wilson Jr. Foundation in Grosse Pointe, Mich., established shortly after Wilson’s death in 2014. “Mr. Wilson’s loyalty to his players was legendary,” recalls John Marzo (MA ’86), associate professor of clinical orthopaedics, who formerly served as the Bills’ medical director for two decades.

The Wilson Foundation gift builds on a $1 million donation from Ralph and Mary Wilson in 2011, and will support initiatives begun with that earlier gift, including a virtual arthroscopy simulator, the Ralph and Mary Wilson Visiting Professor Lecture Series, and efforts to recruit and train the best physicians and keep them in the region. It also will provide a major boost to UB’s cutting-edge research on traumatic brain injury, which already is creating a new paradigm for treating concussion.

Benefits of UB sports medicine extend to a diverse public, including not just NFL players but aging seniors, weekend warriors, and high school and college athletes. UB wrestler Corey Hollister is among the latter, having returned to the mat after being treated for a concussion by John Leddy (MD ’85), medical director of UB’s Concussion Management Clinic. “The UB sports medicine folks monitored me every step of the way and helped me recover,” says Hollister.

As Mary Wilson notes, “The grant is yet another testament to the incredible, groundbreaking work taking place right here in Western New York that has an impact on athletes across the country.”