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Code of silence seems to hurt players twice

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.

TRIPPIN' ON E(MAIL)

Michael, I don't always agree with many of your viewpoints, but I'll be the first to stand up and clap for your deep review of the Eric Mangini situation in Cleveland. The biggest question I always have, is what have (Scott) Pioli, (Josh) McDaniels or Mangini ever done when they have come out of Bill Belichick's shadow? Nothing. Mangini and (Romeo) Crennel have both failed miserably as head coaches for the most part, and the others have no track record to speak of. The only thing that they all (with the exception of Crennel) share is this horrifically abrasive attitude towards members of the team. I mean, isn't the first rule of a new regime that you get people to buy in to your philosophy by garnering their respect? I'm just shocked that these guys go about treating veterans and members of the organization in this way. Ironic isn't it, that Thomas Dimitroff, the one guy to come out of that regime with a great demeanor and a positive attitude, is the one who has had the most immediate success?

Tahmid Z. Mannan
Philadelphia

I don't know if I'd call it ironic (the most incorrectly applied word in the English language, so I absolutely forgive you); I'd go with "logical" instead.


Cry me a river, Silver. You are awfully sensitive to the feelings and demands of players on crappy teams. Why should anyone be nice to them? I'm not advocating cruelty, but gimme a break. Also, it isn't the end of the world when management brushes aside player contract demands. Everyone perceives themselves as underpaid and players who have leverage are more than welcome to exercise it.

Sam
Lafayette, Calif.

I'm not passing judgment on whether (Joshua) Cribbs' desire for a new contract is justified or whether he's underpaid. I'm simply saying that, if promised that his deal would be reworked by the owner (and the since-fired general manager), he has every right to be upset if he feels that promise isn't being honored. If (Randy) Lerner and Mangini have elected not to do so, that's a pretty dubious business strategy.


Your column about Mangini and the Browns was on point. Mangini would probably respond that winning fixes everything – and he intends to win. But the diehard Browns fans (who have been hit as hard economically as anyone in the country) have earned the right through their loyalty to be treated with pertinent and accurate info by professional PR people. Mangini completely whiffs in that area – as did Belichick in his first Cleveland coaching gig. If the fans feel that the players think Mangini is a jerk, then they will follow with that thought process and Mangini will see his last NFL head coaching job blow up in his fat face.

Tim Corbett
Ladera Ranch, Calif.

I agree – Mangini had better win, or he'll have a very hard time getting a third head coaching gig.


I am not one who likes to harp on spelling but I think you may have misspelled Eric Mangini's last name. It should be spelled Mangina.

Rich
Fairbury, Ill.

If I'm not mistaken, this alternate spelling of the coach's surname originated in Foxborough, Mass., and has since gained widespread usage in and around the Big Apple.


"So trust me: If I'm Michael Vick(notes) and I just got out of prison, the only way I'd want a videographer hanging around with me and my fiancée is if I'm planning a career in adult cinema." I'm still rolling under the table from that one. You truly are the best! Keep it coming, Mike!

Serge
Douala, Cameroon

Thanks, and be careful not to bang your head getting up.


Hi Mike. While I always enjoy your column and have nothing but sincere appreciation for your proper spelling, punctuation and grammar, you do have a minor error in the Lies, Lies, Lies section: "3. Thrilled by a recent photo shoot with Jets rookie quarterback Mark Sanchez(notes) that included several shirtless shots, GQ editors lined up Browns rookie tackle Andre Smith for a similar spread." Andre Smith(notes) is the Bengals rookie tackle. It's an easy mistake to make, though – they're both crappy teams in Ohio with no promise for a brighter tomorrow. Or was this your clever way of inserting another lie into the segment? Go Bears!

Brooke
Cincinnati

Ha, I wish I were that clever. Alas, I'm simply a guy who embarrassed himself almost as much as Smith did when he took his shirt off. Almost.


Love the column Mike, but I think you had one too many beer Floats. Andre Smith(notes) a Brown … I believe he plays for Carson's Bengals. Let's have a beer float dedicated to him protecting Mr. Palmer. Heck I'll have 10!"

Ben
Milwaukee

If I had one too many beer floats, it's only because seeing my daughter and her teammates with medals around their necks makes me so irresponsibly giddy, I simply can't control myself.


Quite a few years ago (must have been 1999) my team, the Chivas, also won the Concord Cup. I remember it was in excess of 100 degrees. The brutal part, was that we were locked in a stalemate. As if 90 minutes in the heat wasn't bad enough, we played overtime, sudden death overtime, and went to penalty kicks which also resulted in a tie. It wasn't until sudden death PKs that we took it. Game must have lasted three hours in that heat. Good memories. Congrats to your daughter!

Justin C.
Chico, Calif.

Playing a marathon final in suffocating heat sounds miserable, but I have to say that watching my daughter's team get eliminated from a tourney in a 40-minute quarterfinal match in comfortable conditions last Monday morning was excruciating in its own right. I hate the mini-games! (Unless, of course, her team scores in the first five minutes, as it did in most of its games.)


Hey, I just wanted to let you know that as a 16-year-old football fan, you are the only sportswriter that I really enjoy reading. Your Obama parody song was brilliant, to say the least. The only other thing you need to do is write a story on the Patriots. If you do that, I'd almost be ready to run around wearing a Michael Silver T-shirt!

Joshua
Baton Rouge, La.

You are wise beyond your years.


Great article on the Director's Cup. Great articles all the time. Next time you're in Berkeley let's go do some actual Don Julio shots at Kip's. Go Bears.

Pat
Berkeley, Calif.

Perhaps someday soon we'll share some drinks out of the Director's Cup itself (Cal is now fifth in the standings).


If you had absolute confidence in your original point on the Redskins name, you wouldn't need to affirm it by running the most articulate responses that defended it and the least articulate responses that attacked it.

Todd Martin
Los Angeles

Trust me, it wasn't because I lacked confidence in the argument – or merely because I control the cyber-real estate and orchestrated it as such. Has it occurred to you that a vast majority of the responses defending the nickname were inarticulate, while most of those attacking it were far more eloquent and cogent? I know that might raise a few red flags, but the truth hurts.


I have a statement for you, it is liberal peices of excremint like yourself that has made America stupid. Instead of the Washington Redskins maybe we should change the name to the Washington Whinny Douche Bag Bloggers, and you can be the mascot. Wah Wah Wah I'm sure you shed a tear and cringe everytime someone says Redskins around you. You are out for attention you cry baby. I bet your not even weened off your momma teet Hail to the Redskins.

Scott Monko

As I was saying …


I a full-blooded Cherokee and your argument is species! I am an attorney also and find your reasoning flawed. What percentage of the Native population is offended by this? I've discovered over 246 surveys which vary greatly on thre distributions. We did a survey of our tribe and 4 percent objected – the rest thought it was fine, not demenaing, and depicts a Chief in battle Headdress! So you a white man don't know what you are talking about! Come to a sweat ceremony and get the drugs out of your head, Paleface!"

Jonathan Rabbit
Las Vegas

With all due respect, I live in California, and summer is approaching. Despite my devoted use of high-end sunscreen, my face is pretty far from pale. That would make your argument specious – and one that casts doubt upon the collective spelling skills of the species. As for the surveys, that's a valid argument against changing the name, and I absolutely believe the Native population should be consulted. Thanks for adding to the debate.


On the subject of changing the Redskins name, I was disappointed that the pro-tradition commenters couldn't bring themselves to respectfully disagree with you, or to raise points other than "you're a hippie leftist you want to cancel Christmas." Here's some examples of logical fallacies that some of these commenters may want to be made aware of: Ad hominem attack – attacking the commenter as a way to discredit any/all opinions the commenter has. Red herring – offering an irrelevant topic that distracts from the real topic in order to "win" the argument based on the newly introduced topic. Straw man – distorting a commenter's position and then attacking the distorted version of the position. Anyone who wishes to see examples of the three above logical mistakes should just read those pro-tradition comments. They offered nothing we haven't heard before, they attacked you rather than respond to the real topic, they tried to suggest that changing the Redskins name in isolation actually is a PC movement to change all potentially offensive monikers, and they distorted your position so that they would have something easier to attack. What would be truly interesting and not an example of the above would be a pro-traditionalist explaining what's so great about tradition in and of itself how changing the name threatens that greatness. Have other sports teams diminished in greatness after their names were changed? As just one example, do we think less of the Chicago Bears franchise because they are no longer named the Chicago Staleys? In other words, what's in a name? Thanks for stoking the fires of this argument. In my opinion, it's an argument worth having.

Dave the Paleskin
Kensington, Md.

Thanks, and if you don't mind my asking, what kind of sunscreen are you using? I'd like to get some of that.


"Conservative Christians make up the majority of the world's population? Jesus." Really? You had been doing so well expressing yourself, fighting your argument, finding a way to present both those with and against you on an equal playing field … and then this? I'm a moderate-to-conservative Christian. I find it offensive when the name of my God is used in flippant, sarcastic fashion. You have a valid point regarding the validity of Washington's team name. I am sure that you have had to put up with an extreme amount of backlash. I am also sure you knew it was coming. Why discredit your voice by reacting to this particular (misguided) critic in a profane and derogatory manner?

Mike
Baltimore

You're right – I'd like to have that one back. I was going for a cheap laugh, and it was a bad decision. I apologize to you and everyone else I offended.


I'm embarrassed by people like Clark who claim to be "Christian" and attach all narrow-minded political thought to their belief. I'm a born again Christian, and from everything I've studied of Christ, he would have shown compassion and love to those who are oppressed. "The last shall be first," is a quote from Jesus, which no question states how those who've had a raw deal in this life will have it much better than their oppressors in the eternal sense. The native people of America have definitely gotten far worse than a raw deal, at the expense of its greedy European settlers. We need to change this name of one our most prized sports teams. It's the least we could do as modern-day Americans to have a sense of respect for the nations and cultures that were immensely violated in the early expansion and growth of our nation.

Jesse

Thanks for reminding us about those essential tenets of Jesus' teachings. Regardless of our respective religious beliefs, I hope most of us can agree that those are values worth emulating.


Michael, I wanted to thank you for your article on the Redskins nickname. I have long felt that it was offensive and not a tribute. The Chicago Blackhawks, named after a tribe is a tribute. Redskins is a slur. The only thing that I wished you had covered in your article to reinforce your point is a brief history of the team's founder George Preston Marshall. The man was a notorious racist who pushed through a "Color Barrier" one year after he entered the league in 1932. The Redskins were the last team to hire a black player in 1962 and that was only after the Sec. of the Interior threatened to kick them out of their stadium. If that is the guy who came up with the name, what are the odds that it was a heartfelt nod to Native American culture?

Chris Wiegel
Rochester, N.Y.

About the same as the odds of Mel Gibson coming over to Daniel Snyder's house for Passover.


I have to admit, when I first saw your piece on the Washington team name I didn't bother to read it. I felt like it was a stupid issue. However, I never really gave any thought as to the true meaning, or heritage of the word itself. I guess it shows how the general use of a term over time might remove its gut reaction to the actual distaste a term such as this should illicit in reasonable human beings. I have long felt that racism will be something most easily defeated when people no longer care what short-minded, unintelligent people think about them based only on one's race, but blatant and public disgraces such as this make it almost impossible to get to a point where it is just a few of the aforementioned unintelligent people. Mr. Snyder needs to make this change as a decent human being, period, end of story. I can't imagine a single defense he could use in not doing so once presented with the facts behind the name. Then again, I like to think myself a fairly reasonable human … but wait … I'm agreeing with you, can those two situations coexist? Hey had to take some kind of a jab at ya … Seriously though, great article! I hope more people read this and at the very least start making it a point of discussion. One other point I'd like to make is did you notice that the letters supporting you were almost completely the ones with little to no typos, presented logical, nonviolent responses and that the one's opposed were full of misspellings, poor grammar and hateful? (See above, "short-minded, unintelligent") Thanks Mr. Silver for opening my own eyes to this issue.

Fred
Wasilla, Alaska

De nada, and I must ask: Can you see Russia from your house?