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Code of silence seems to hurt players twice

Discussion in 'Chargers Fan Forum' started by Johnny Lightning, Jun 2, 2009.

  1. Johnny Lightning

    Johnny Lightning Go Bolts

    Feb 7, 2006

    By Michael Silver
    Yahoo Sports

    The ball hung in the crisp Colorado air for an uncomfortably long time, and Antonio Cromartie(notes) backed up and watched it soar out of his grasp, a man cruelly betrayed by his body.

    Cromartie, coming off a breakout season for the San Diego Chargers which had landed the young cornerback in the 2008 Pro Bowl, was powerless to defend Denver Broncos wideout Brandon Marshall(notes) last September, most embarrassingly on a six-yard fade route just before halftime of the Broncos’ 39-38 victory. As Marshall reached up to grab Jay Cutler’s(notes) pass in the corner of the end zone, one of a franchise-record 18 receptions he’d collect on the afternoon, Cromartie bowed his head and felt the shame wash over him.

    “It was horrible,” Cromartie recalled last week. “I hadn’t given up a fade route my whole career, and there was nothing I could do to stop it. He was talking trash – we’ve been playing against each other since high school, and that’s part of his game – and there was nothing I could say.”

    Actually, there was something Cromartie could have said after the game, to the first reporter who approached him: “My hip is broken, and I can’t get in and out of my breaks.” He didn’t, because he’s a typically macho athlete who prides himself on sucking it up and playing through pain. He also understood that his employer felt no compulsion to reveal the extent of his injury, even as he struggled through a subpar season and got ripped by fans and media in the process.

    Looking back, Cromartie – who sustained the fracture in the second quarter of the season opener (when a Carolina Panthers lineman pummeled him on a running play) and was listed as questionable for the Denver game with an unspecified hip injury – wonders whether secrecy was the best policy.

    “If, as players, we feel like we can play when we’re hurt, we’ve still got to stick up for ourselves,” Cromartie said. “We’ve given the organization all we can, and at the same time, they’ve got to give it back. This league is, ‘What can you do for me now?’ and we all have a name to protect. If the team’s not going to speak up for us, it’s for us as players to speak up for ourselves.”

    It’s a sensitive issue in San Diego, where many players say star halfback LaDainian Tomlinson(notes) was hung out to dry by the franchise after attempting to play in the 2007 AFC championship game with a knee injury the team went out of its way to downplay. And it’s an increasingly pertinent issue around the NFL, as players such as Patriots halfback Laurence Maroney(notes) and Packers safety Atari Bigby(notes) have recently spoken out about significant injuries which were unreported by their respective teams last season.

    The problem is the result of a three-pronged clash of interests between NFL coaches and general managers, many of whom subscribe to the long-held belief that withholding information can create a competitive advantage; injured players, who don’t want to be thought of as wimps yet don’t like being regarded as failures for trying to perform with serious limitations; and the NFL, which ostensibly requires teams to be forthcoming about the injuries and availability of players.

    In the latter case, the NFL’s policy isn’t a principled stand for truth and transparency. Rather, the league is looking out for the interests of gamblers – not altruistically, but in an effort to keep them at bay. If injuries are reported in a uniform and reasonably accurate manner by all teams, there is a far lesser chance that high-stakes gambling interests might be empowered to purchase inside information from, say, an assistant equipment manager in the know.

    I understand why specific teams could care less about this global concern and thus are tempted to skirt the policy. A coach, general manager and their underlings are in the business of trying to win games, and many of them tend to think that keeping an opponent off balance and out of the loop increases their ability to do so. Further, they fear that if they reveal the specific nature of a player’s injury, opponents will target the area in question in an attempt to exacerbate the ailment.

    I question whether this hush-hush approach – and, for that matter, paranoia in general – actually translates into victories, but that’s a separate debate for another time. What I’d like to focus on here is my sense that NFL players, with a labor battle looming, seem to be increasingly suspicious of the way their employers’ insistence on secrecy works against their own interests.

    In Maroney’s case, he was limited to three games last season with a shoulder injury that landed him on the injured reserve list in late October. Maroney, who has since revealed that he had a broken bone in his right shoulder, wasn’t listed on the injury report before a Week 5 game against the 49ers, an outing in which he conspicuously refused to lower his shoulder to fight for a first down.

    Last month, bothered by a perception that his meager ’08 stats were a sign of poor effort and a lack of toughness, he told The Boston Globe: “I had a broken bone and I was trying to play with it. 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.”

    Bigby joined the chorus last week, telling the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that an ankle sprain he suffered in the third preseason game last August plagued him throughout the ’08 campaign. Though Bigby’s ankle was listed on only two injury reports during the season (he appeared on numerous other reports with hamstring and shoulder ailments), it ultimately required surgical repair in late December, and he’s still not back to pre-injury form.

    “You guys don’t even know how bad it was,” Bigby said. “But it was something serious, but I wasn’t at liberty to explain it.”

    Cromartie knows exactly what Bigby means. The cornerback appeared on only a handful of injury reports throughout the season, but he clearly wasn’t the same playmaker who intercepted an NFL-best 10 passes in ’07. He may have concealed the hip fracture, but the people from whom the Chargers hoped to hide the information weren’t especially fooled.

    “What hurt me last year was getting in and out of breaks,” Cromartie said. “I couldn’t turn on a ball like I wanted to, and I couldn’t break on a ball when it was in the air. Guys on other teams knew something was wrong. I’d be warming up before a game and [opponents] would come over and say, ‘Man, why are you playing? You don’t even look the same. We can see you limping on film.’ I’d just shrug it off. I was trying to help my team, even though I’m not sure if I actually did.”

    Cromartie certainly didn’t help his reputation, and he wasn’t naïve enough to believe that the Chargers would intervene on his behalf. That reality was driven home during the team’s ’07 AFC title-game loss to the Patriots in Foxborough, Mass., when quarterback Philip Rivers(notes) played with what was later revealed to be a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee and Tomlinson lasted only four plays after attempting to play with a sprained medial collateral ligament in his left knee.

    When Tomlinson left the game, a Chargers official announced in the press box that he “can return” and didn’t reveal the MCL sprain. LT’s toughness and willingness to play through pain was subsequently questioned by numerous commentators, including former stars Jim Brown and Deion Sanders.

    After Tomlinson suffered another debilitating injury in the final game of the ’08 regular season, it was hardly surprising when reports surfaced before San Diego’s first-round playoff game against the Indianapolis Colts in January that LT had a detached adductor tendon in his groin. The strikingly specific description of the injury was likely leaked by someone in the halfback’s camp, and given the history who could blame that person for doing so?

    Predictably, Chargers coach Norv Turner responded that he was “surprised as anyone” by reports of the tear. Yet a few days after Tomlinson carried just five times in the Chargers’ overtime victory over Indy, the halfback confirmed the groin tear to reporters and said it was “doubtful” he’d play in that weekend’s playoff game against the Steelers. Tomlinson indeed missed that game, and the Chargers’ season ended – yet this time, there was no talk about his refusal to tough it out for the team.

    Is all of this a trend? I’m not sure, but I do think some teams’ practice of concealing injuries is a concern the players might want to discuss with new NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith as they brace for a significant stretch of negotiations on a new collective bargaining agreement. I’m not sure what, if any, reforms they could attempt to secure, but it’s at least worth exploring at this tenuous time.

    This isn’t my battle to fight. As a journalist, I’m obviously all about an open exchange of information – though, realistically, I have a lot more fun tweaking the paranoid organizations by finding out what they don’t want me to know.

    More important, this is an issue that concerns what you as fans (and, in some cases, gamblers) are empowered to know, and it’s something you might want to consider the next time you see an obviously struggling player being portrayed as completely healthy.

    Oh, and for all you fantasy players out there, chew on this: Not knowing the truth could screw up your season. If that happens, heaven forbid, you’ll feel a lot like Antonio Cromartie(notes) did against Brandon Marshall(notes) last December.
  2. wrbanwal

    wrbanwal Well-Known Member

    Dec 27, 2005

    couldn't --- could not care less

    sorry, but that one word sticks in my craw like nuclear. It is NOT a three syllable word

    thank you gw bush

    • Like Like x 1
  3. matilack

    matilack Take A Knee McCree!!!

    Aug 14, 2006
    Whenever I got hurt playing football the coaches always played the guilt trip, after that it becomes a pride thing. I tried to play through a high ankle sprain and it cost me an entire season.

    I know exactly what Cro is talking about as far as feeling obligated to try and play through it.
  4. boltssbbound

    boltssbbound Well-Known Member

    Jun 16, 2006
    I don't think Cro's problem was playing through the injury. It's the fact that the team chose not to divulge the injury, so everyone is trashing him as being some kind of soft primma donna who let success go to his head. I look forward to seeing the real Cro return to form this season and shut up those who are calling for his head.
    • Like Like x 1
  5. BFISA

    BFISA Well-Known Member

    Nov 16, 2005
    I agree; I know I was guilty of questioning his stones on his less-than-manly tackling techniques.
  6. Sydalish

    Sydalish Addicted to Sports

    Nov 11, 2007
    while i understand keeping things under wraps during the season - once it's over i wish the organization would step up behind our guys and back them up.

    If Cro was so badly hurt, I don't understand why he was still playing - obviously he wasn't getting it done and there's no shame in stepping aside if you're not helping the team b/c you're hurt... just take a seat and get better, then come back. I don't doubt that he was hurting, I question why the coaching staff kept him in - maybe he was better than our other options?

    RE: LT - he got hung out to dry and I don't blame him/his posse for sharing just how hurt he was this season after the 07 shitstorm.
  7. Kwak

    Kwak ....

    May 25, 2006
    This hiding of injuries is nothing new. Pats and the Hoodie have been doing it for years. You get nothing out of them.

    Denver and the Rat it was sop.

    It's messed up that teams feel they need to do this. Players take the heat and get called out by the media and fans as being pussies.
    • Like Like x 1

    HEXEDBOLT Don't like it, lump it!!!

    Jul 11, 2006
    Back in the 60's & 70's, it was a common practice to go after a reported injury of you foe. If the opposing QB had sore ribs as reported, heck he'd be stood up for someone else to take the shot on him. This is the reason I believe they keep it all hush, hush now day's.

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