NFL News

Todd Gurley, Eric Berry and the insulting lies about player health

There’s a frustrating tendency on the part of some coaches and teams to pretend a player is healthy when it’s quite clear the opposite is true.

Todd Gurley is currently missing. It’s not the back-of-the-milk-carton kind of missing; rather, he’s simply not on the field.

“I doubt we see Todd in the preseason,” said Los Angeles Rams General Manager Les Snead on The Sedano Show on ESPN radio recently. Snead specifically said the team would not run Gurley at all during OTAs before admitting he would miss the entire preseason.

It’s the same sort of missing that happened late last season, too, for Gurley. At the time, the Rams largely insisted that their star running back was fine, that his left knee—the same one that underwent surgery five years ago for a torn ACL—was simply inflamed. Gurley never failed to agree. Everyone towed the same company line. He was “fine.”

Yet it was clear that something was missing, that he was missing. The slowdown began in early December of last season for the Rams, when Gurley put up 28 yards on 11 carries in a tough late-season loss to the Chicago Bears. Gurley would play the following week before sitting out the last two weeks of the regular season—fortunately easy contests against the the two teams who would pick first in the draft, the Arizona Cardinals and San Francisco 49ers.

From there, Gurley would provide one last magnificent gasp of production—the kind we’re used to when he’s present—against the Dallas Cowboys in the Divisional Round of the playoffs. At home against Dallas, Gurley put up 115 yards on only 16 carries in a 30-22 win that began the team’s run to the Super Bowl. For at least a week, questions were silenced. Gurley was found.

But then came the most frustrating weeks of the season in terms of clear misinformation about Gurley’s health. (In fact, it’s a bit surprising the league did not step in.) Against the New Orleans Saints, in a pivotal overtime battle to go to the Super Bowl, Gurley had five touches. Five. Four carries for 10 yards and one catch for three yards. Two weeks later, in the biggest game of the year, Gurley had 11 touches—including 10 carries for 35 rushing yards and another lone catch, good for negative yardage.

In other words, the Rams gave their best offensive weapon a total of 16 touches in the two biggest games of the year—a total he eclipsed in every single game of 2018 except for two. Yet when the questions were asked, when reporters looked the player and coach directly in the eyes, they were given nothing but tall tales.

Before the Super Bowl, Head Coach Sean McVay said Gurley was “100 percent.” After the Super Bowl, Gurley said the lack of touches came down to being part of a team. “There are 11 people on the field, everyone can’t touch the ball,” he said. McVay fielded the same question and blamed himself.  “I just never enabled us to get into a rhythm offensively … but Todd is healthy.”

Perhaps the most insulting response out of all of this came when Gurley said the presence and talent of C.J. Anderson was partially responsible for the lack of reps and touches.

“Whenever my names called to get in, I’m ready,” Gurley said. “But like I said, we’ve got a good running back in C.J., so obviously he’s going to come in as well and I’ve just got to take advantage of my opportunities when the chances.”

Six months later, Gurley is missing once again, and while it matters very little at this stage compared to when the regular season ramps up, it’s hard to know who to trust about these subjects. In the weeks and months since the team’s loss in the Super Bowl, the Rams have learned that Gurley has arthritis in his knee and that it’s still not well. OTAs have been ruled out. The preseason as well. Beyond that is anyone’s guess.

Injuries are a part of the game, but deception is not. It’s even worse when it feels like the team is unable or unwilling to simply say what’s true in a given situation. It begins to insult the fanbase.

The Kansas City Chiefs just walked through this same scenario with a star of their own as safety Eric Berry battled a heel injury that would never subside. The quotes were positive. Before games, he would be listed as questionable. Then when it came to gametime, he was, once again, completely missing.

The Chiefs publicly said Berry was day-to-day for an injury that kept him out for not only the preseason but 15 weeks (including the bye) of the regular season. That’s not day-to-day. That’s not even week-to-week. And it’s frustrating as a fan to be sold a bill of goods rather than to just hear plainspoken truth.

What would be nice in these instances is for a team to admit what they know and what they do not. It would have been nice, at some point, for Chiefs Kingdom if Andy Reid, the team’s head coach, could have just said something akin to, “Look, we’re actually trusting Eric to let us know when he’s ready and we’re committed to keeping him on the roster until that moment. It could be this week or it could be midseason, but that’s just the tension we’re all living in.”

At that very moment, credibility would be earned even as further questions would be put away. While it doesn’t alleviate the situation overall, it does remove the frustrating element of a coach playing coy with information. Instead of saying a guy is “day-to-day” or even “improving” week after week, it works best to just shrug and admit what’s known or unknown.

In the case of Gurley, McVay and the Rams weren’t fooling anyone. If it was a public chess match with Bill Belichick about the injury report, it wasn’t worth playing in the first place. Even the casual fan knew Gurley wasn’t quite right and it’s doubtful the Pats pre-game planning was affected at all by McVay’s insistence on Gurley’s health.

What’s even more problematic is that McVay’s insistence that his star was “100 percent” further promotes a culture of hiding injuries, which flies in the face of the league’s attempts to be more transparent. How can the NFL put forth new initiatives to supposedly care for an athlete’s well-being when, on the franchise level, names are being left out of injury reports and lies are being peddled at the podium.

Eric Berry was never day-to-day, and Todd Gurley was not 100 percent. The lies (or at least, the half-truths) used to misdirect reporters and fans from the truth are not only frustrating but insulting and do nothing to help a sport already crippled with credibility issues in this very area.

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