September 20, 2012 in Sports

Blanchette: Injury report hubbub a real pain

By The Spokesman-Review
 
SR photo

Sports columnist John Blanchette.
(Full-size photo)

Ankles barking again today. Doc says arthritis may be carrying those precincts.

Index finger bandaged and swollen. Got between the dog and a disgusting looking bone he found in the park that I didn’t want him to have.

Neck is killing me. Fell asleep watching Kimmel with my head teetering on the armrest of the couch.

Still taking Lovastatin for the cholesterol.

And that’s my injury report. Unless I slice open my pen hand peeling carrots for the salad tonight, I should be good to go for the game Saturday.

Too much information? Of course.

And, really, there can’t be anything sillier than drawing a line in the sand over the public’s need to know about every case of tendinitis and turf toe afflicting a football team.

Unless it’s a football coach lecturing on journalism.

But here we are, four weeks into a season that actually holds a little promise for the Pac-12, and the what’s been the story du jour? A few schools inching toward policies from the Kim Jong-un Handbook of Public Information, and reporters pushing for NFL-style injury reports that are likely to see everyone from the regular quarterback to the backup long snapper listed as “questionable.”

The issue is a stew of manipulation, paranoia, control, law, control, self-delusion, control, security, stubbornness and control freakery, or the same things that drive every espionage-action thriller that screens at the local multiplex. Only less interesting.

The flashpoint came last week when USC first banned a newspaper reporter for, well, reporting – and then backtracked. Nonetheless, coach Lane Kiffin remains so sensitive about the dissemination of injury information that he walked out of a Q-and-A this week after 29 seconds when the subject came up.

Which must be why they call it a media briefing.

In the meantime, Washington coach Steve Sarkisian has also made reporter access to practice conditional on no injuries being revealed, and the rest of the Pac-12 programs operate under a mishmash of access/injury restrictions.

At Washington State, of course, coach Mike Leach has taken an innovative step befitting his reputation: There are no injuries.

That’s right. No Cougars are ever hurt.

So apparently quarterback Jeff Tuel lost his starting job last week because he was inept, was late for the team bus, flunked a quiz or hijacked a hot dog cart for a joyride down Terrell Mall. It had to be something along those lines, because he took only token snaps in practice – and if you’re so good you don’t need to practice, it stands to reason you’re good enough to play in the game.

In any event, it couldn’t have been because he was injured.

Leach’s charade is as good-humored as he can make it, with lots of winks and twinkles and lines about players being “ridiculously healthy,” though the whole thing certainly seems to be getting under his skin. He spoke out against the notion of a league-wide injury report a la the NFL by citing the inviolability of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) – which is so ironclad that schools and conferences routinely finesse it by obtaining athlete waivers.

Still, the athletes have to feel good about having their own Louis Brandeis on the headset.

But it’s not just the law that inspires Leach. He’s also a crusader for exceptional reportage, and this week declared injury revelations “journalism at its most pitiful level.”

“There’s two types of journalists – there’s a guy that wants to write the Great American Novel, then there’s the type that wants to do a good, solid job, have some creativity, then there’s the type that are just slackers,” he said.

Only those two? I’m assuming Leach has delegated counting the number of Cougars on the field to an assistant.

Sorry. He was holding forth on journalism, not arithmetic.

He also said that reporters who ask about injuries are “not creative enough to keep their stories interesting and not ambitious enough.”

Yes, so concerned is the coach with fostering creativity in football coverage that he’s banished Wazzu beat reporters to the roof of the library to watch practice.

Which is his prerogative. His program, his rules – silly as they might seem. But surely we can dispense with the privacy posturing and other claptrap when it’s merely a matter of asserting control, particularly when other coaches with comparable or better records of success have done just fine letting the world know who’s playing on Saturday.

And, heaven forbid, if some Cougar takes a scary ride out of Martin Stadium in an ambulance someday and Leach is asked for an update on his condition, let’s hope we won’t hear how “ridiculously healthy” he is.


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