A World of Hurt

In the competitive atmosphere of professional sports, teams looking for the upper hand often play cat-and-mouse with the media when in comes to the true nature of player injuries.

NFL Teams are constantly trying to find an edge. One way they do this is by manipulating the infamous injury reports. Teams are required to file a report with the league, which is distributed to all other teams and the media, indicating the nature and seriousness of any injuries to its players. This report is required weekly, and has to be updated as information changes.

However, there seems to be no requirement to report injuries that will not prevent a player from playing. Often, a player will be added to the injury list with the comment that "this happened a couple of games ago, actually." Huh?

When a player goes down in a nationally televised game, it is hard to hide it. So everybody knows that Shaun Alexander hurt his knee last week in New Orleans. We can't hide that. But how bad is it, really? Ahhhh….that's the question.

Mike Holmgren doesn't really lie to the press. But he does engage in what might be called selective dissemination of information.

Shaun's condition has been a subject of water cooler conversations all week, and little new information has been released beyond the initial change of diagnosis from sprain to bone bruise. Yes, he did practice on Friday, which was seemingly a pre-condition for him playing today. Even with that, Holmie listed him as a "game day decision" in his Friday comments. In effect, he told Tampa Bay, "You figure it out." In essence he probably will play, but maybe not. Yes, keeping one's opponent guessing is an important part of any game plan.

The system in place allows for only four levels of condition: Out, Doubtful, Questionable, or Probable. Each level represents a 25% increase in the probability of that player playing in the coming game. For the record, it seems that Questionable players--at 50% probability--seem to play in an awful lot of games, leading one to believe the system is fraught with a lot of gray areas. Not surprising, I suppose, given that it involves medical opinions and is colored with a huge number of motivational issues involving playing time and job security for the players and coaches. One need only recall the 2002 MASH unit that was the Seattle Seahawks to understand how injuries can affect the outcome of a season.

Which brings to mind one important distinction that all athletes, from the pro football players we cheer on every week, down to the weekend warriors that work out or play on local softball teams. Athletes must somehow determine the difference between hurt and injury.

Generally, any athletic endeavor will lead to pain, if it involves pushing one's physical limits. Obviously, in order to improve, an athlete must always be pushing his personal envelope of accomplishment. Add in the ferocious pounding pro football players endure during games, and it is no surprise that they are almost always in some sort of pain, if only from contusions. We all expect them to play through these kinds of bumps and bruises as a normal part of the job. After all, it is.

The trouble comes when a player feels pain, and tries to ignore it, and that pain turns out to be symptomatic of a real injury. Trying to play through an injury can lead to more serious complications and additional injury that could not only cause missed playing time, but could jeopardize a player's future, both as a player and after.

Granted, by the time most players reach the pro level, they have become acquainted with the difference between hurt and injury. They have to.

They also become pretty good diagnosticians, too. They can at least tell if a pain is the indication of something serious or not.

So, as we worry about Shaun Alexander's injured knee, it allows us to look at the basic philosophy in place to care for players.

It seems, from the diagnosis, that there is no structural damage to the joint. That is great news.

This past off season, the Seahawks have been rather cautious with injured players. They have been reluctant to release a "hurt" player to play far more than in the past. That strategy seems to play into the idea that we want these guys healthy in December and beyond, and can let them heal in August and September. Our increased depth at virtually all positions have let them do this without affecting the outcome of any games yet. This will probably change a bit now that the regular season is underway, but hopefully not a lot.

I think the players appreciate an approach that emphasizes their health as being most important. That should be good for morale, if the players don't think they are being forced to play while injured.

Shaun, quite naturally, wants to play this weekend. He showed great competitiveness and drive in last week's game. That may be because it is a contract year, or maybe he is just responding to the coaching he has been given. Reasons are not important. What is important is that Shaun has been showing some fire lately, and not just in the red zone. He has been running hard all over the field, a welcome change from his former, more tentative running style he used between the 20's in past seasons. It would be nice to see that continue today.

But Holmgren wasn't talking Friday. He insisted on calling it a game day decision, leaving everyone with just that little bit of doubt that Shaun may not play. He said the same about several other injured players.

No reason to tell any more than you have to.

Seahawks 27 Bucs 10


Steve Utz writes a column for Seahawks.NET every Sunday. Send your feedback to Steve at wisecoyote1@cox.net

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