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Northwestern Continues To Under-Report Injuries

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Running back Venric Mark (ankle) is the latest Northwestern star with an injury the team has downplayed or covered up. Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images.
Running back Venric Mark (ankle) is the latest Northwestern star with an injury the team has downplayed or covered up. Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images.

The news from the Chicago Tribune Friday regarding Venric Mark’s ankle injury is not surprising for those of us who have followed Northwestern football during the Pat Fitzgerald era.

The seriousness of injuries to star players is often minimized to the press until it’s revealed some point down the line that yes, these injuries are serious. It happened in 2009 with Corey Wootton. It happened in egregious fashion in 2011 with Dan Persa. And it’s happening again in 2013 with Venric Mark.

I think I understand Northwestern’s reasoning for not telling the entire truth about injuries to its star players. They don’t want the opposition to know because they want to force them to prepare as if they are going to face a fully healthy Wootton, a fully healthy Persa, a fully healthy Mark.

But this routine is starting to get annoying. In 2008, Wootton suffered a bad knee injury in the Alamo Bowl. It was a tough rehab, but the public was assured that he was “100 percent” entering the 2009 season. But the Wildcats really struggled to get to the quarterback throughout the season, relying on an explosive pass-happy offense to squeak out eight wins. Wootton finally told me before the Outback Bowl that he had not been 100 percent, but had played through it the entire season. It was a great effort from Wootton, but the fact that his knee was slowing him down all season was obvious to everyone. Despite this, the coaching staff insisted on saying he was 100 percent.

In 2010, Dan Persa was a star for Northwestern. He helped lead an undermanned Wildcats squad to a 7-3 start. But in the 10th game of the season, a dramatic win over Iowa at Ryan Field, Persa ruptured his Achilles while celebrating his game-winning TD pass to Demetrius Fields in the waning seconds of the game.

Before the 2011 season, Northwestern launched a Heisman Trophy campaign for Persa. We found out later they launched this campaign knowing full well that Persa still was hurt and would miss the opener against Boston College. He went on to have a solid passing season, but his explosive running attack disappeared. Persa went from 519 rushing yards in 10 games in 2010 to 32 rushing yards in 10 games in 2011. Northwestern knowingly launched a Heisman campaign for an injured player. Ridiculous. This was a case of a marketing concept prevailing over common sense.  

This year, there was no mention of any injury concerns regarding Mark leading up to the season opener against Cal. And then he barely played in the Cal game. Then he missed the rest of the non-conference games. Now Friday’s article from the Tribune says the ankle (originally described as “lower body”) injury might be worse than anyone thought.

But at this point, is anyone really surprised?