Back in October, Mike Tomlin was asked why the Steelers ruled quarterback Ben Roethlisberger out of a game with the Patriots so early in the week.
“We’re a transparent group,” said Tomlin. “We don’t hide. We are who we are."
The statement seemed a little sanctimonious and could easily be construed as a thinly-veiled shot at the Patriots, who share what they have to when they have to and little more.
Now the statement is hypocritical to boot. The groin injury that forced Steelers running back Le’Veon Bell from the AFC Championship Game on Sunday was a long-standing one that the Steelers may have been hiding on their injury reports.
Teams are on the hook to list any significant or noteworthy injuries to players on their practice participation and injury reports.
Tomlin has framed Bell’s groin injury as being insignificant.
As Mike Florio from Pro Football Talk points out:
“Here’s the problem with that argument. Bell had been missing practice time. Each of the three Wednesdays before the team’s playoff games, Bell didn’t practice. Last Thursday, he missed practice for ‘personal reasons.’
"The circumstances put the league office in a tough spot. If Bell missed no practice time, the folks at 345 Park Avenue could say, ‘The injury wasn’t significant, and Bell participated in all practices and games.’ Since Bell missed four of nine practices over a three-week period with the ‘not injury related’ designation at a time when Bell had a groin injury, the league will have a hard time burying its head in the sand on this one.”
Additionally, while the injury may not have been significant, the best back in the league having a tender groin is noteworthy and warranted disclosure. There was a lot of clucking a few years back when the Patriots listed Tom Brady on their injury report every week with a shoulder situation. Significant? He didn’t miss many games with it. Noteworthy? Absolutely.
In a statement released after the Ravens were fined for injury-report chicanery, the league maintained: The Injury Report Policy states that, “All players with significant or noteworthy injuries must be listed on the report, even if the player takes all the reps in practice, and even if the team is certain that he will play in the upcoming game. This is especially true of key players and those players whose injuries have been covered extensively by the media.”
With the NFL possibly opening up shop in Las Vegas in the next couple of years, it would behoove them to make sure every franchise is as “transparent” as Tomlin proclaimed the Steelers were back in October.
The reason the NFL injury report exists is, in large part, so that gamblers can’t profit from insider info. No NFL franchise is more attuned to making sure gambling interests aren’t served than the Steelers. In 2008, after the NFL looked the other way for decades while the Rooney family maintained control of the Steelers and several racetracks, two Rooney brothers divested themselves of Steelers ownership so they could maintain the family’s gambling interests.
So the appearance of fudging Bell’s injury isn’t just a bad look for the coach, it’s an awful look for the Steelers. And, if the NFL does nothing after having docked the Seattle Seahawks a second-round pick for an injury report infraction, it will give rise to the perception the league office is giving Pittsburgh preferential treatment. Which would be the second time this season that could be alleged, given the way the league swept away accusations from Giants personnel that the Steelers were using deflated footballs in a game earlier this season.
It’s a tangled web they weave, ain’t it?