The rather unwise move by Houston Texans running back Arian Foster on Wednesday — he tweeted a picture of his latest hamstring MRI — has created a furor around the NFL, which generally holds injury information as closely as it possible can for a host of reasons. One reason is that if opponents are aware of a player's specific physical vulnerabilities, those vulnerabilities will be targeted on the field, no matter how distasteful that may sound.
Former New England Patriots linebacker Tedy Bruschi confirmed that theory when asked about the info Foster put out by saying that he would "give it [the injured hamstring] a little dig, I give it a little twist, and I get off of the pile. Maybe I do that."
Former NFL coaches have been similarly apoplectic about the breach of protocol, so you can only imagine how current NFL coaches feel — especially those who coach Foster! Herm Edwards, who's been the main man for the New York Jets and Kansas City Chiefs and is one of the most quotable analysts in the business, went off on Foster on Wednesday during ESPN's NFL coverage.
"I tell those rookies at the Symposium — whatever you do with that thing, don't press 'Send!' Because whatever you send goes to 'Da-da-da … da-da-da' [sings 'SportsCenter' theme]. Here's the problem we have as a culture — you're now causing a distraction to your football team! By the way, Arian Foster — you're probably not going to play Week 1. We know that. But why would you cause a distraction to your football team? Reporters are going to be in that locker room today and tomorrow, asking, 'What do you think about Arian Foster and about his hamstring?' Now, everybody's a doctor!"
Former Baltimore Ravens head coach Brian Billick, now an analyst for FOX Sports and the NFL Network, added this on Thursday morning's "Mike and Mike" program.
"If I were still coaching, I would not go anywhere near that, because … for what purpose? The league wants the teams to be transparent; I get that. And you want a certain amount of connectivity. But again, I would go back to my players and say, 'OK — I understand social media. And I understand what it is you're trying to do in terms of keeping your profile alive. What is the endgame here? What is it you think you're going to do? Show me how you're going to monetize this? If you think there are millions at the end of the rainbow, post-career, and you're going to have one of these [media] jobs … first off, these jobs don't pay that good, OK? And there's not a whole lot of them.
"I would really work hard to educate my players to understand that … people are compelled to tell everyone what their physical shape is. Why would you share that information? You're crossing the line, and I just have a tough time understanding it."
Billick also mentioned that teams will insist that their players stop revealing their medical conditions, either through the front office or veteran players, to gain a competitive advantage over those teams whose players can't seem to stop giving medical updates.
But what rights do the players have? In reality, we're dealing with separate personal and professional issues here. As team employees whose physical condition is paramount to performance, players should most likely avoid making their injuries public for the reason Bruschi outlined — all-time great running back Jim Brown used to arrive at the Cleveland Browns' training and medical facility in off-hours so nobody would know what was going on with his body.
But under HIPAA (The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) rules, people have a right to decide who will know their medical information — especially if they are incapable of notifying people for whatever reason — and who will not. And unless that's superseded by a clause in a contract in which a player or other team employee would voluntarily turn over HIPAA-related information control to the team (which would most likely involve a Power of Attorney), the team probably doesn't have any legal standing to tell Arian Foster or any other player to pipe down when it comes to injuries.
Legal precedent is one thing; common sense is another. Common sense tells us that what Arian Foster did doesn't make a lot of sense.
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