One week after Seahawks coach Pete Carroll admitted that the team had failed to disclose a knee injury suffered during the season by cornerback Richard Sherman, the Steelers have acknowledged the failure to disclose a groin injury to running back Le’Veon Bell. Unlike the Seahawks, however, the Steelers have stopped short of admitting that Bell’s injury required disclosure under the league’s injury report policy.
It was no coincidence that coach Mike Tomlin, in admitting that he knew about Bell’s groin injury, said that the injury “wasn’t significant.” Tomlin specifically was staying on the right side of the injury reporting policy.
The injury report policy specifically requires the disclosure of only “significant or noteworthy injuries” on the Practice Report. So the argument from the Steelers would be that, because Bell’s injury was not “significant,” it didn’t need to be disclosed.
Here’s the problem with that argument. Bell had been missing practice time. Each of the three Wednesdays before the team’s playoff games, Bell didn’t practice. Last Thursday, he missed practice for “personal reasons.”
The circumstances put the league office in a tough spot. If Bell missed no practice time, the folks at 345 Park Avenue could say, “The injury wasn’t significant, and Bell participated in all practices and games.” Since Bell missed four of nine practices over a three-week period with the “not injury related” designation at a time when Bell had a groin injury, the league will have a hard time burying its head in the sand on this one.
The availble evidence suggests that the “management” of Bell’s injury included giving him days off that deliberately were characterized as “not injury related” in order to conceal the injury. Without exploring the situation in further detail, there’s no way to know the truth.
But any investigation would expose just how easy it is to fudge the injury reports, something that pretty much every team does at one time or another, justified in part by the belief that everyone else is doing it, so we may as well do it, too.
Bottom line? The league would prefer to stay out of the injury report rabbit hole, because eventually it will become too clear to too many people that cheating on the injury report is widespread. The problem is that, between the Seahawks last week and the Steelers this week, the NFL may have no choice but to wallow in the reality that the hiding of injuries happens a lot more frequently than the average fan realizes.