Faking injuries in the NFL is a time-honored method of stopping the momentum of an opponent and giving your own team a much-needed breather. It's like calling a timeout in basketball when the other team is on a big run. Since football doesn't have the luxury of all those silly 20-second timeouts, the 20-second timeout has become the phantom hamstring tweak, and the only folks who are really harmed by it are the coaches and players who find themselves on the wrong end of a good trick. The people who complain about it the loudest and consider it a detriment to the game, however, are generally only media folk who would like some jurisdiction over a sport they see themselves as an integral part of.
And the thing of it is that the sports media have grown so large and so influential that they really can distort how the game gets played. Stealing hand signals from the opposing team was once a tried-and-true tactic, but when the press caught wind of it a few years back, it became a Big Media Deal—big enough that Congress got involved. It's the same thing with faking injuries. But now you have 432 cameras for every game and hours of NFL-related programming to fill and a whole week to pore over Sunday's footage to find a storyline—something to talk about, something to get mad about, even if it means ignoring the sport's folkways. And so this week, after all those cameras caught Deon Grant doing a death scene from a bad movie, fake injuries became a Big Media Deal, too.
There's nothing sillier than covering an ungentlemanly sport and pretending to be shocked by the ungentlemanly behavior of the people who play it. Often during games, I had a to take a piss. There are several ways to accomplish this. If the bathroom is close enough, you can make a dash while the defense is on the field, but I played special teams as well, so that came with risks. The best method, I found, was to put on a parka, grab a Gatorade cup, shove it down your pants, and fill it up. Another method used by a select few was to shove a dry towel down around your junk and let it flow. The towel would soak it up like diaper, whereupon it would be thrown into the trash can, no one the wiser.
But what happens when the inevitable comes to pass and a camera catches a player pissing on the sidelines? The media will rip into him for a few days, then the NFL league office will send out a memo to all players warning them about acts detrimental to the league and threatening to fly the pisser out to New York for a sitdown in the principal's office.
During a game in Denver, our defense had been on the field all quarter. They were exhausted. After getting the ball back on offense, we scored on our very first play from scrimmage. Seeing how tired our defense was, our special teams coach told one of our kickoff guys to go down after the play and force a long television timeout so the defense could catch its breath. Sure enough, at the end of the play, he went down and grabbed his hammy. The training staff rushed out onto the field to tend to him, and the broadcast cut to a commercial. The player lay on the field for a while, then was helped off by an athletic trainer who was completely oblivious to the ruse. The act of gamesmanship served its purpose, and the game went on as scheduled. No one talked about it the next day, or the day after that, or the day after that. No press releases were issued. The integrity of the game did not suffer one bit from the collective ignorance to the act.
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Now, without question, the Giants' fake injury was not executed with nearly as much thespian skill and tact, and this contributed greatly to the outcry. But the only thing this Big Media Deal will accomplish will be to refine the acting chops of NFL players so as to avoid the ever-scornful eye of the media, who will be searching for a new thing to be outraged about. And it's only a matter of time until they catch a guy stuffing towels down his pants. Can't wait. Pissgate 2011.
Nate Jackson played tight end for the Denver Broncos from 2003 to 2008. His writing has also appeared in Slate and The New York Times. He is working on a book about life in the NFL.