Faking Injury: Cheating or Strategy?
On Wednesday, the AP reported that the NFL sent a memo to all 32 teams warning that fines, suspensions, and even loss of draft picks could be invoked as punishment for players faking injury during a game.
Is faking injury a form of cheating? Does it give one team an unfair advantage over the other? Does it hurt the game?
I believe the answers to these questions lie within culture, and therefore, one’s perspective on the nature of sport itself. Thus, there are no right or wrong answers, but only perceptions and prejudices. However, before we get to that…
Apparently the NFL views feigning injury as cheating, even though there is no specific rule on the act itself.
The NFL memo states that “Going forward, be advised that should the league office determine that there is reasonable cause, all those suspected of being involved in faking injuries will be summoned promptly to this office… to discuss the matter. Those found to be violators will be subject to appropriate disciplinary action for conduct detrimental to the game.”
Of course this threat wouldn’t have happened if the NFL didn’t had some evidence that faking injury actually occurs.
Apparently it does.
Browns’ LB Scott Fujita, who is also a member of the players’ union executive committee, was quoted in the AP story as saying:
“I’ve been places where it has been (taught)… They have a name for it and I’ve been places where it’s been pre-called. I’ve been places where it’s one player who has been designated.”
Baltimore Ravens’ safety Ed Reed was also quoted:
“It’s always been in the game… It’s all tactical stuff you need to use. Whatever it takes… If you’re tired, you’re tired. You get a break however you can.”
San Francisco 49ers’ RB Frank Gore added:
“Hey, I feel if it helps, do it. I’m bound to do it. Whatever it takes to win…”
When asked if he ever instructed his players to feign injury, Washington Redskins’ head coach Mike Shanahan said:
“I can’t say I have… But, I won’t say I haven’t, either… It happens all the time, and warnings will come out… and it’s happened again.”
The obvious segue here is to soccer.
In the World’s Game, it’s called diving, or officially, “simulation.” It’s well known that feigning injury in soccer is regularly done. I watch the European game quite regularly and see players drop like a duck full of buckshot when inside the 18-yard box to encourage the referee to call a foul on the opponent.
One’s view of this behavior depends totally on one’s culture.
The Brits look at diving as one of the purest and most despicable forms of cheating, because they are consumed with the ideal of the level playing field: fair play, fight like a man, and all that. And, they view the referee as the ultimate authority figure in the game – one that should not be duped, deceived, or made to look bad.
However, if you grew up in Italy (as a example), you might be prone to look at diving as a strategy.
The English see the Italians as the dirtiest footballers on the planet. But, the Italians use the term furbizia, the art of guile, as I learned from a 2010 article on the subject by Andrea Tallarita, which is unfortunately no longer available.
Mr. Tallarita explained that to Italians, cheating is doing something that your opponent cannot do, or exploiting resources you have no access to. Both sides can commit certain type of fouls, so that is not cheating. Both sides have the ability to take free kicks before the goalkeeper has set, so that is not cheating either. Verbal provocation of one’s opponent is a classic form of furbizia. Remember how Materazzi’s verbal baiting of France’s Zidane in the 2006 World Cup Final resulted in Zidane’s retaliatory head butt to Materazzi’s chest, but it was Zidane who was ejected, and it was Italy who went on to win the match and the trophy.
And, so, diving is a classic form of furbizia. In Italy, the diver is not so much looked down upon as is the referee that doesn’t catch the diver is the subject of scorn. This is not so much strictly Italian football protocol as a natural extension of the total disrespect of authority figures by Italians, as argued in John Foot’s fine book on Italian football.
To these footballers, football is an art, sometimes a dark art, and art where guile is a major part of the tool box.
So here we have two irreconcilable visions of the same game: (1) the fair-play nature of the English with the referee as a respected figure; and (2) the use of guile and gamesmanship of the Italians with the referee serving as the object of total distrust and disrespect.
The NFL’s most recent action was in reaction to a complaint filed by the St.Louis Rams on Tuesday. N.Y. Giant Deon Grant was accused of faking an injury to slow down the St. Louis Rams’ no-huddle offense and give the Giants’ defense time to rest in Monday night’s nationally televised game. Grant claimed he hurt his right knee making a tackle.
What about the college game?
Last season, Cal was accused of faking injury during their game against Oregon and the Ducks’ fast-paced, no-huddle offense. [The linked article implicates Tennessee during the Ducks’ visit to Knoxville last season.]
A handful of Cal DLs went down with apparent cramps, but video shows backup Cal nose tackle Aaron Tipoti looking to the sideline, and then moments later hobbling around and falling on the football.
Here’s a little video…
Pretty obvious… but not quite as blatant as some of this…
The NCAA rule book does mention feigning injury under “coaching ethics,” calling the teaching of it “indefensible.” But, there is technically no rule against it. A referee cannot call delay of game or unsportsmanlike conduct.
Thus, the referees are basically powerless to stop injury faking.
The only thing an official can do is stop the clock for injury, and can only make sure that the player leaves the game for at least one play. If the official believes an injury has been faked, that opinion can be recorded in his game report.
At least the officials in the game of soccer can throw a player out of a game (red card) for feigning injury [see video above].
With the NFL’s memo of this week, the professional game is sending a message that, in this world of 47 camera angles, faking injury will not be tolerated and will be punishable by some fairly severe measures.
With their penchant for finding miniscule rules violations, can the NCAA be far behind?