David Chao, MD: NFL Uses “Coach Speak” to Cover for “Fake News” Injury Reports

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The term fake news has certainly become mainstream over the last couple of years. Generally it is limited to politics but now we can slide it into sports

Lamar Jackson was said to miss his second straight practice and the quoted reason was to “rest his arm”. 

Fake News.

I never bought that excuse, as you can see above. He is a young quarterback and should rarely need rest. Now, even if rest was needed, two days of arm rest is quite unusual.  It was even more unusual with the modified training camp schedule: there are only 10 padded practices (which just started) making each one more valuable than in the past.

Now comes word of a groin injury. Even when forced to admit it wasn’t due to arm rest, Ravens head coach John Harbaugh continued to play coy calling it “soft-tissue” and refusing to be more specific.

I am not being critical of Harbaugh. He is far from the only coach or team to give fake injury news, looking right at you, Bill Belichick. I am only calling attention to the fact that it is routine. So routine that the term “coach speak” has been used as a nice way to say “fake news”. 

In 2015, the Ravens first round draft pick WR Breshad Perriman was said to have “bruised” his knee with a short preseason absence, that then became a “strained tendon” which later became known to be a PCL tear and he essentially missed the whole season and was later placed on injured reserve.

There is nothing wrong or illegal about the lack of information or misdirection. There is no injury reporting requirement in the preseason. Injury reports only start on the Wednesday before the first Sunday games. (Or course the schedule is pushed up for the season opener Thursday September 10th.) 

Even during the season, the requirement is only for a generic body part and practice/game status. New England is famous for putting multiple players as “questionable” on a routine basis to make a real injury harder to detect. I am not saying Belichick is violating the rules, but rather taking advantage of them. There is no “probable” designation any more thus any real injury that has a 1% chance of not playing qualifies for the “questionable” designation.

The question is why even create the fake news about Jackson needing arm rest.

The groin injury is apparently mild and he is said to be ready to return soon, even today. What was the big deal? It doesn’t seem like the Ravens run any risk to not have him for the opener. And even if it was worse and he missed more practice time, how can his absence be hidden from the media? In any case “soft tissue” acclimation injuries are common upon restart of football activity, especially one without an offseason program.

One can argue whether this “coach speak” or fake injury news is needed but it seems to be a long-standing NFL tradition. Besides, it gives me a role to analyze the injury truth.

Written by Dr. David Chao

David Chao, MD -- known digitally as Pro Football Doc -- is an expert contributor for Outkick. Chao spent 17 seasons as the team doctor for the San Diego Chargers (1997-2013) and is part of the medical team at OASIS in San Diego where he treats and specializes in orthopedic sports injuries, working with high-profile professional athletes from the NFL, NBA, and MLB.


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