The NFL does not want to become professional soccer (thankfully).
The league circulated a memo Wednesday to its teams warning that punishments will be forthcoming if players feign injuries to gain a competitive advantage.
The memo, which was obtained by the Associated Press, states in part:
“Going forward, be advised that should the league office determine that there is reasonable cause, all those suspected of being involved in faking injuries will be summoned promptly to this office … to discuss the matter. Those found to be violators will be subject to appropriate disciplinary action for conduct detrimental to the game.
“We have been fortunate that teams and players have consistently complied with the spirit of the rule over the years and this has not been an issue for the NFL,” the memo said. “We are determined to take all necessary steps to ensure that it does not become an issue.”
The AP reports fines, suspensions and even forfeited draft picks could be levied to guilty squads.
The memo comes two days after New York Giants S Deon Grant and LB Jacquian Williams simultaneously fell to the turf, seemingly with cramps, as the defense briefly tried to huddle after being quickly driven into its own red zone by an effective no-huddle offense utilized by the St. Louis Rams. The resulting injury timeout prevented the Giants from having to burn a real one and allowed them to reset their defense.
Grant vociferously denied any gamesmanship on his part.
“You go and check my medical report,” he said Wednesday. “I have the injuries to speak for it … two torn MCLs that I never had surgery, wrist surgery, shoulder surgery, a broken hip with a metal plate and screws in. How can another person that’s not in your body tell you you are faking an injury?”
Grant said he was hurt while tackling Rams RB Cadillac Williams and subsequently was advised to go to the turf by Giants DE Justin Tuck so he could be attended to by trainers.
St. Louis players didn’t exactly buy it.
“We had them exactly where we wanted them on those first couple drives,” Rams QB Sam Bradford said after the game. “I was pretty upset, they couldn’t get subbed, they couldn’t line up, so two of their guys they literally … they told them. Someone said, ‘Someone go down, someone go down,’ so someone just went down and grabbed a cramp, and I was pretty frustrated about that.”
Giants coach Tom Coughlin has responded to inquiries by saying he believed Grant was legitimately hurt.
And there’s the rub: How can a fake injury be differentiated from an actual one?
“I don’t think you can enforce it,” ESPN analyst and former NFL offensive lineman Damien Woody said. “It’s going to be a tough issue to monitor.”
Injury gamesmanship goes back at least as far as 1988, when the Seattle Seahawks “suffered” a rash of injuries to their defensive linemen in the face of the Cincinnati Bengals’ high-octane, no-huddle attack in the playoffs. Cincinnati, the eventual AFC champion, won 21-13, but its top-ranked offense was effectively slowed.
“The hard part is somebody really may be hurt, so you hate to see injuries in football, and if a guy is down, you take it pretty seriously,” Patriots QB Tom Brady said. “Whether that’s a strategy, I have no idea; coach (Bill) Belichick has never coached that for us or anything like that. If it is, you just deal with it, you play through it, play with a little mental toughness and try to go out there and execute. Everyone’s going to have different ways to try to slow down teams.”