Injuries are indeed a way of life for those who compete in the NFL. With technological advances and professional expertise at an all time high, the top flight medical care that is available to players today certainly can shorten the time a player is on the sidelines with an injury.
But the other side of this equation is how a team reports the injuries that their players sustain, and just how much information they release.
While the NFL mandates a strict policy in terms of identifying players who are injured and those who are unable to perform, there is, in my humble opinion, a wide degree of difference in how teams actually disseminate that information to the media and eventually to the public.
This information is generally fiercely guarded as it can provide your opponent with an edge in terms of how they must prepare. Coupled with medical privacy laws, it can make it difficult to really know just who is injured and how severe the situation really is.
The Colts during the Bill Polian regime have been extremely tight lipped about these matters and will no doubt continue that policy moving forward. With that in mind, two key players are in the spotlight, Dwight Freeney and Bob Sanders. Both are defensive stalwarts and if the Colts are to return to the Super Bowl, they will have to be healthy for the majority of the regular season and the entire playoffs.
It is no secret that Freeney played with a significant injury in the most recent Super Bowl and while he was a warrior in the first half, it is obvious he would not have played in a less important game. Did playing in that game cause any long-term physical damage? Who other than Freeney and his doctor really know? Time will certainly tell. Hopefully he did not.
But the one thing that stands out is how various medical experts who were quoted during the week of the Super Bowl all agreed that this was a serious injury and playing effectively would be improbable. Their respective assessments were based solely on the information the Colts provided to the NFL in a timely fashion. Was this injury reported accurately? Probably, but who can say for sure just how definitive a report is when in actuality all a team must do is describe a general condition.
Sanders has had a plethora of injuries during his career and has spent more time these past few seasons on the injured and unable to perform list than on the actual playing field.
It should be noted that both of these gentleman leave it all on the field when they play and they are not sitting out for something minor. Both have repeatedly stated they are 100 percent and ready to go in this upcoming regular season. Despite their proclamations, it does warrant the following question. At what point does a team have an obligation to make a full disclosure to the NFL and their fans as to the true extent of any injuries they are aware of?
I spoke recently to a current assistant NFL coach and one retired NFL trainer and they both shared the same sentiment with me, that a lot of the injury reports that are filed by teams to the NFL are not worth the paper they are written on in terms of what they actually disclose.
“An accurate injury report would be a vital tool for the opposition,” said a long time assistant coach in the NFL who asked to remain anonymous. “I am not sure they exist,” he chuckled before declining to elaborate any further.
The trainer was adamant about his full professional disclosure approach being questioned more than once by coaches, general managers and even once by an owner.
“I never compromised my professional integrity, but I sure did have it questioned by those I was employed with on more than one occasion,” he added.
In the opinion of many observers, the NFL has made it a priority to insure the timely and accurate submission of these reports, and while there are crystal clear policies involving how a team must report injuries, there can be no doubt about the importance of these reports and how they impact the integrity of the game.
“I do not know of any coach in the league that would knowingly jeopardize the health and welfare of one of his players,” said Eddie White, a long time Reebok executive, and former Miami Dolphins public relations director. “In all my years in the NFL I can honestly say that the commissioner’s office demands a transparent injury report and that report is vital to the ongoing commitment by the NFL to uphold the integrity of the game.”
One thing is for certain, many players are performing while injured and the media and general public really does not know just how seriously injured a player may indeed be on the sidelines or on the field. That is the reality of professional sports, and not just the NFL. Do not look for that to ever change.
NOTES: The Indianapolis Colts travel to Green Bay on Aug. 26 to face the Packers. The game starts at 8 p.m. and can be seen on ESPN and MyIndyTV. The Colts close out their pre-season schedule when they face the Cincinnati Bengals and newly acquired Terrell Owens at Lucas Oil Stadium on Sept. 2.
Hopefully, Owens will be better on the field than he is on his ill-advised reality television show. That should not be hard to do.
You can e-mail comments to Danny Bridges at Bridgeshd@aol.com or by phone at (317) 578-1780.