Dragging out player-health information from football coaches is one of the more tedious aspects of covering the industry. The coaches want to share nothing, the players are forbidden to speak and the journalists see it as ho-hum duty, mostly for the sake of fantasy players and casino bookies.
My favorite response was by former Seattle Seahawks coach Chuck Knox. Asked about the status of an injured player, Knox said, “He’s got a groin.”
Thanks, Chuck. Please get back to us when you discover that he doesn’t.
More currently, within the space of 24 hours this week, we learned that an important player for each of our pro football teams, the Seahawks and the Huskies, played a chunk of the season with an injury that wasn’t disclosed.
Neither was serious enough to cause a game to be missed, but apparently impacted their play. In the case of Washington QB Jake Browning, he needed surgery to repair an injury to his throwing shoulder.
According to the Seattle Times, the injury happened against Arizona State Nov. 19, but Huskies coach Chris Petersen disclosed nothing. Browning played full games against Washington State, Colorado and Alabama, yet at sufficient incapacity for many observers to wonder if Browning lacked the stamina/arm strength for a full college season.
Over in Renton, we learned Monday from coach Pete Carroll that CB Richard Sherman had a knee injury, apparently a strained MCL, for the last half of the season. Carroll brought it up not as an explanation for Sherman’s play, but to justify partially his sideline outbursts and soured media relations, a sideshow sufficiently distracting that Carroll said, “It took us to a place we don’t want to be. We don’t want any part of it.”
Talking about Sherman on his Monday morning ESPN radio show, Carroll said, “I had a big meeting with Richard going out, and he has some regrets about this season.
“You don’t know that he dealt with a significant knee (injury) the whole second half of the season, and it was stressful to him to try to get out there. He had an MCL problem that he could play with. That weighs on you, particularly when you’re out there on the edge.”
By his noon presser, he backtracked into bewilderment: “Honestly, I didn’t realize we hadn’t revealed it … I’m feeling like I screwed that up with not telling you that.”
Of the two episodes, Carroll’s is the more serious deviation, if only because the NFL has rules against injury prevarications. If the NCAA insisted on mandatory truth-telling by football coaches, the industry would implode into an atomic speck.
In the NFL, there are specific policy requirements for weekly injury disclosures, described here:
The Practice Report provides clubs and fans with an accurate description of a player’s injury status and how much he participated in practice during the week. If any player has a significant or noteworthy injury, it must be listed on the practice report, even if he fully participates in practice and the team expects that he will play in the team’s next game. This is especially important for key players whose injuries may be covered extensively by the media.
The NFL insists upon these rules, and the players’ union accepts them, mostly because both sides know that much of the NFL’s extraordinary well-being is because of gambling. Neither side will admit it, however. So by telling the truth on injuries, they help perpetuate a charade regarding the purpose of integrity.
Thursday, ESPN reported that Carroll’s failure to disclose Sherman’s injury may cost the Seahawks a second-round draft pick in the April draft. The NFL’s investigation is not over, but reportedly the league is considering advancing a previous punishment, loss of the fifth-round pick because of previous violations of contact limits in practice. A fine may also be included.
Although the NFL has long avoided playing in Las Vegas, they certainly don’t want to irritate the bookies. Now that fantasy-team gambling is the only reason millions of consumers engage with the NFL, any loss of credibility regarding game outcomes and player availability is dangerous.
Another punishment would be the fourth time in six years the Seahawks have been charged with rules violations. The first three were about permitting too much physical contact during offseason team practices.
The Seahawks are not yet in the Repeater Cheater category of the New England Patriots, but they are rapidly closing the gap. Follow the leader.
Regarding Browning and Petersen, the pragmatic considerations are understandable. Since there are no mandatory-disclosure rules in the NCAA or Pac-12 Conference, no coach wants to hand a foe an advantage by being honest. And since the financial health and profile of nearly all athletic departments, and some entire universities, depend on winning football games, most university presidents would insist their coaches tie widows to railroad tracks, if they thought that was what it took to win.
So HIPAA rules and student-privacy policies can provide the fig leaves to justify silence. That doesn’t help the gambler who is placing large coin on Washington, based in part on Browning’s ability to throw deep often, and not just until the painkillers wear off.
While silence in these matters is not lying, neither is it close to honest disclosure. So it may fall to journalists to come up with a term that covers the gray area where Carroll, Petersen and their contemporaries prefer to dwell in their public utterances. The purpose is to accurately alert a gambling-obsessed nation, upon which coaches’ livelihoods depend.
In the interest of clarity as well as public participation, I offer some polite terms that can be used to categorize the coaches’ positions regarding disclosure, with thanks to a 2005 best-selling book written by Princeton Prof. Harry G. Frankfurt:
The beauty of these terms is that they are not common in ordinary usage, so they can be conscripted, more or less, to serve as a sports alert whenever coaches talk, or don’t talk, about the availability of players.
In sports, as in the world of U.S. politics, our language must adapt to new realities in which honesty and accuracy no longer have value.
Art Thiel is co-founder of sportspressnw.com.