Mandatory reporting of injuries is back in the news after Portland Trail Blazers guard Damian Lillard admitted to playing Game 3 of the NBA Western Conference Finals with a separated rib.
Lillard, whose injury was not listed on the team’s injury report, made 5 of 18 shots in a home loss to the Golden State Warriors on Saturday. He suffered the injury on May 16 during Game 2 of the series.
As more states choose to legalize sports gambling, calls for widespread availability of information regarding players’ injuries will only increase. This demand won’t just affect professional sports. It’s coming to our colleges too.
Lillard’s injury evokes memories of the more publicized LeBron James hand injury last year, one we later learned occurred in Game 1 of the NBA Finals. James arrived at the final post-game press conference wearing a soft cast, admitting he “pretty much played the last three games with a broken hand.” Like Lillard, James never appeared on the injury report.
Oddsmakers largely decried the team’s (and the NBA’s) failure to disclose the injury. Now that the NBA has a gaming partnership deal with MGM Resorts, expect more scrutiny of NBA injuries.
Bookmakers want the NBA to adopt a system similar to what the NFL currently uses. NFL teams must disclose a player’s injured body part and whether the player is “probable,” “questionable,” “doubtful,” or “out” for the upcoming game. The league requires teams to include a “reasonable degree of specificity” in the reports.
Proponents of injury reports claim secrecy regarding injuries threatens the integrity of the games. If injury information is kept hidden, questionable people could bribe insiders with the teams or medical staffs, or even the players themselves, to gain an unfair advantage.
In college sports, the NCAA and universities could be shielded by the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) that governs medical privacy, and the Family Education Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) that protects the privacy of student records. Still, commissioners and athletic directors of the Power 5 conferences largely expect to implement injury reports in the near future.
In fact, the NCAA Gambling Working Group will soon propose a pilot program requiring coaches to list players as “available,” “possible,” or “unavailable,” without listing the specific injury, according to CBS Sports.
I understand both sides of the argument, and I’m still on the fence. It seems inevitable that injury reports are coming to all major pro and college sports. As we move forward, the leagues and NCAA need to consider some key questions.
The NFL Players Association contract allows teams to disclose injuries. It’s part of the collective bargaining agreement. The players are employees. In college, student-athletes are not employees. Can schools or the NCAA require them to waive their privacy rights regarding injuries?
Is there a way to protect athletes’ privacy and still give information to the public? Maybe the leagues create an “availability report” rather than an injury report, just listing a player as “out” or “doubtful,” without citing the specific injury. Or the team could only list “upper body injury” or “lower body injury,” much like the NHL does now.
Should we include non-injury situations in an availability report, like suspensions, off-the-field issues and academics?
Will an injury report be mandatory and uniform across all teams in a league and all colleges in the NCAA? Will each team’s reports be monitored to avoid Bill Belichick-type manipulation? Belichick listed Tom Brady on the injury report before every game for three straight years, even though Brady played 127 consecutive games, including those three years.
Will the media gain access to at least some of each team’s practice so reporters can see for themselves who sat out of contact drills, who wore a medical boot, and who practiced against the starters or the backups?
Should teams report results of players’ X-rays and MRIs? Should they be forced to disclose that a player even underwent one of these tests?
Will public knowledge of injuries lead opposing players to target the player’s bad knee or ankle, as NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman has argued?
If players like LeBron James and Damian Lillard had injuries that were never going to keep them from playing but could impact their performance, are we really going to make teams report every nagging ache and pain that every player has for the integrity of point spreads and prop bets?
Is every college football head coach going to list every sore elbow or case of knee tendinitis for up to 100 players just so someone can bet a running back will rush for 84 yards instead of 112 on Saturday?
And will open reporting of injuries really keep unscrupulous people away from players, especially young college students?
This injury issue won’t be settled quickly. There will be strong opinions on both sides. It’s critical that we consider all the ramifications and make the right decision.
Dr. Geier is an orthopedic surgeon in Charleston and author of “That’s Gotta Hurt: The Injuries That Changed Sports Forever.”