On injury reports, teams often leave players to twist in the wind

Publish date:

A similar thing happened last season in San Diego with Pro Bowl cornerback Antonio Cromartie. He had a subpar season because of a broken bone in his hip, an injury whose magnitude was not revealed until after the season, and his agent, Gary Wichard, says players are often put in unfair positions when the team chooses not to release the information.

"I remember the play it happened, in the very first game, and I knew about it all year long," said Wichard of Cromartie's injury, "but it is taboo for anyone outside the organization to discuss it, which really can serve to put that player on an island."

Players are growing frustrated with the process and for some it has almost reached a boiling point. One player I spoke with said he was listed as questionable for four consecutive weeks, even though he had a hairline fracture in his leg and there was no chance he was going to play. He had to stand at his locker every week and answer questions from the media about his availability to keep the ruse going, and he got increasingly frustrated with the song and dance.

Ultimately, when a player is listed as questionable that many weeks and doesn't play, it makes the player look bad because it appears as if he is not willing to gut it out or play with an injury. The reason Maroney finally spoke out is that his toughness was being ridiculed this offseason. "I had a broken bone and I was trying to play with it," Maroney said in his defense. "It's kind of hard to sit here and play and not tell people what is going on. Everybody is going to think one way because they don't really know what's going on. I dare anybody in this crowd to play football with a broken bone in your shoulder and you tell me how long you're going to last out there."

Players like Maroney would prefer the fans and media knew what they were going through injury-wise so that evaluations could be made with all of the information available. To the detriment of many players, however, some coaches are adamant about the information not getting out and thus they are only going to provide the league with the minimum required information, if that.

Of course, the reason some teams don't release the information, even though all injury information is supposed to be revealed publicly, is quite simple. "It all comes down to not wanting to give a competitive advantage to your opponent as they prepare," said Browns outside linebacker David Bowens, who played for the ultra-secretive Nick Saban and for Eric Mangini. "If I were an offensive tackle and I had to go against James Harrison of the Steelers that week, I would be stressing all week about that matchup. But if I knew he was going to be out for the game well in advance, my confidence would be sky high. You want the team you are playing against to have to prepare for everything, with all the bells and whistles."

But maintaining a competitive advantage is not why the injury report was created. It was designed to eliminate the possible dissemination of inside information that could be used for gambling purposes. Yet, if teams continue to withhold key information about player injuries, that gambling element still exists.

The practice also speaks to the matter of competitive balance, because if some teams are filling out injury reports honestly, while others are not, the forthright teams will have given their opponent more information than they themselves received. And in the NFL, information is power, no matter how small or insignificant others may think it is.

I was on the Buffalo Bills in December 2004 when we were going to play at Cincinnati, with playoff possibilities still on the line for both squads. Bengals quarterback Carson Palmer had gotten injured the game before, and in the days leading to our matchup he made a comment to the media that strongly insinuated he would not be able to play against us. Our coaches immediately began preparing for backup Jon Kitna, who was adept at running the no-huddle offense.

Though Palmer attempted to recant and gave quotes that made it appear as if he might play, it was too late for us. Sure enough Kitna and the Bengals came out with the no-huddle early in that game and our defense stopped it with ease.

Did Palmer's admission early in the week give us some kind of competitive advantage? Absolutely. And that is why coaches like Mangini won't even say whether a player has a hamstring injury versus an ankle sprain. Reveal that the player has a hamstring injury and the opposition will be sure to test his speed. Let it be known that it is an ankle sprain and you can bet that player's lateral quickness and change of direction will be challenged.

Complicating matters is that sometimes it is the players themselves who don't want injury information to be made public for fear that it will put them at a disadvantage if their opponent knows their limitations. Players in the NFL show each other no favor when it comes to the action between the white lines and will attack any perceived weakness.

So what's the solution? Either a change to the regulations surrounding injury reporting or else a more stringent level of enforcement. Much like other issues in the NFL, like teams tampering with players before free agency begins or agents speaking to underclassmen before they are technically allowed to do so, the league either needs to enforce the rules as they are currently written or alter the rules in a manner that makes more sense. Selective enforcement or no enforcement is not a tenable long-term position because it hurts the credibility of the league and puts those that follow rules to the letter of the law at a distinct disadvantage.