The NFL publicly has had nothing to say about the news that quarterback Tom Brady played the entire 2020 season with a torn MCL in his knee without the Buccaneers ever disclosing the injury. Privately, the NFL recognizes the potential problems that can arise from teams violating the injury report.
Per a source with knowledge of the situation, the league realizes that it must reconsider the degree of accountability when it comes to the hiding and/or faking of injuries. Last year, the league had a handful of situations involving failure to report injuries, and at least two situations where the league identified the faking of an injury during games.
The league has approached these matters with less and less transparency, refraining from making it known to the world that its teams lie and cheat when it comes to injuries. Put simply, the league doesn’t want those who may regulate (or prosecute) responsible persons to realize how widespread the problem is. The league nevertheless knows that it must insist on greater compliance in order to prevent future problems with politicians or prosecutors, and that could result (sooner or later) in the league-imposed penalties increasing for violations — along with a more aggressive effort by the league to enforce infractions.
Flipping widespread violations to uniform compliance will require a dramatic shift in the culture of secrecy that prompts teams to keep opponents in the dark when it comes to the true health or lack thereof of its players. The Buccaneers understandably hid Brady’s knee injury to keep defensive players from “testing” the knee. One hit, intentional or accidental (or “accidental”), could have ended the season for Brady and, in turn, for the team.
Thus, it won’t be easy to get teams to embrace the importance of transparency and accuracy regarding injury information. It’s nevertheless critical to do so. Without compliance, inside information exists. Gamblers will try to find it. Persons who have it could be contacted and potentially corrupted for it. Those relationships could grow, and what began as an effort to obtain inside information regarding the health of a given player could expand. Eventually, depending on the role of the person involved, efforts could be undertaken to shave points or rig a prop bet.
Put simply, inside information becomes the potential gateway for gamblers to infiltrate the sport. It already may be happening. It possibly has been happening for years. As legalized sports betting spreads, however, a renewed urgency emerges to create a clear and potent firewall. That begins with eliminating inside information when it comes to injury, and thus making the pursuit of inside information fruitless.
Of course, other types of inside information will remain. That’s why the league must be concerned not only about minimizing inside information but also about protecting the inside information that exists. It’s one of the biggest current threats to the integrity of and public confidence in the game of professional football, because the legitimization of sports gambling puts public skin directly into the game — and that will invite public officials to take steps to ensure that the millions of dollars in hard-earned money now legally wagered on games won’t be undermined by shenanigans driven by certain gamblers and facilitated by certain players and/or coaches.