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Friday, July 27, 2012
Jaguars fines for injury talk are unfair

By Paul Kuharsky

I understand why Mike Mularkey doesn’t want injury information out. I understand why any NFL coach doesn’t want injury information out.

But the news from Tania Ganguli of the Florida Times-Union that the coach is going to fine players $10,000 for talking about injuries goes far too far and makes him look like an overly controlling coach overstepping his bounds.

(Is this how the Patriots have kept players quiet on injuries all these years? We're not sure the Jags are alone here. But being with others in this position hardly makes it the right one.)

Mike Mularkey
Mike Mularkey is taking strict measures to make sure his team does not discuss injuries.
If I play for the Jaguars and tear a hamstring, it’s my hamstring. You employee me. You don’t own me. The good of the team goes only so far. I’m allowed to talk about my hamstring if I want to.

Mularkey told Ganguli a cautionary tale:

His team once practiced against a no-huddle offense because it knew a backup quarterback ran it, and he’d heard the starting quarterback say he wasn’t playing.

So Mularkey’s team wouldn’t have practiced against a backup-quarterback scenario otherwise? It wouldn’t have wanted to be ready in case, say, the starter got hurt on the first series of the game?

Here is another cautionary tale with far more substance:

Jaguars running back Fred Taylor tore his groin in a terrible way in 2001. His coach, Tom Coughlin, downplayed the injury to the degree that everyone kept pressing about Taylor’s return. If the injury wasn’t so bad, what was taking him so long to come back? His inability to recover became a rap that stuck to him. And to this day, a lot of people think of Taylor, who might have Hall of Fame credentials, as soft. It's an unfair label for a guy who was unlucky and plenty tough.

His coach and his team did him and his reputation a great disservice, and for what? Some imaginary competitive advantage they maintained by sustaining a lie -- the possibility he could be playing soon.

I understand taking one for the team, but that seems a little overboard. Is really about injury information, or is it really about control?

Are such fines even legal?

I can’t imagine Mularkey would implement such a policy without knowing it was OK.

“We’re looking into it,” NFL senior VP of communications Greg Aiello said via email.

Will the players' association challenge it?

“Looking into it,” said NFLPA assistant executive director of external affairs George Atallah.

Mularkey's explanation to Ganguli:
"They saw a lot of numbers last night. One of them, it was up there more than once, was about speaking about injuries. [Head trainer] Mike Ryan talked about it, I had it up there more than once. Coordinators were told prior to that meeting every two weeks, two to three weeks, I want you to stand in front of that room and tell them we’re not going to talk about injuries. Even if mom says, 'How are you feeling?' If you tell you mom, go call coach Mularkey. I’m going overboard ..."

He laughed about that, at least.
"Anything I know about a guy, anything I know is hurting on him, any comment he makes will play into how they attack a team or a position. I just don’t think it’s anybody else’s business. ... If I feel like it’s going to jeopardize us or compromise us, I will not talk about specific injuries. Right now we’re really not in a position where I don’t feel free to talk about them, because I feel pretty good about our team right now. But I will be the only voice."

This is some dangerous territory.

Mularkey is a good man and a good coach, selling his team on buying into a new plan.

But I don’t know why they’d buy into this, and I think he’s asking too much of them. Clearly someone agrees, because someone shared the info. And sharing the info puts it in a place like this, where objections can be formulated.

If I’m a Jaguars player, I’m talking to Mularkey about this today. As he sounds pretty unwavering, I’m talking to my union rep right after that.