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The NFL's New Threat To Integrity

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There's no way to tell if NFL injuries are authentic during play. Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images.
There's no way to tell if NFL injuries are authentic during play. Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images.

The NFL season is in full swing and something is just not right.

Over the last decade, the professional sports world has been rattled by the use of performance enhancing drugs and human growth hormone. Countless players in the NFL have been punished for these clear violations, but the league’s new threat to the integrity of the game has nothing to do with banned substances.

This emerging epidemic is not only hard to spot, but even harder to penalize. If you are not sure what I am referring to, think “flopping” in the NBA. The latest trend among weary defenses in the NFL is to fake injuries in an attempt to get a breather without using a timeout.

But how can this be? NFL players are gladiators of the gridiron. Toughness is a mentality. Faking an injury goes against every virtue of the game. It’s an embarrassing attempt to gain a competitive advantage on the field. Is it worse than steroids? Probably not. But it’s a real problem that’s not very easy to halt.

For starters, how can referees tell if a guy is “faking” an injury? It’s purely subjective barring a bone sticking out or a knee out of place. Even apparent concussions are difficult to diagnose on the spot. And with the strict protocol in place for head injuries, players are increasingly hesitant to admit to concussion symptoms.

So what is the league doing about this? Well, there’s not a whole lot they can do.

The NFL sent memorandums to every team warning them that faking injuries could result in unsportsmanlike conduct penalties and potential penalties after the game. Again, how are the referees supposed to properly enforce this? It’s completely subjective. Fast-paced offenses are sweeping the league right now and defenses are struggling to keep up. The NFL needs to do more than warn teams about faking injuries.

In the NBA, flopping results in a fine. A fine levied against an NFL player has less of an impact than the rookie symposium. It’s peanuts to these guys. Suspensions seem harsh, but why not charge teams with timeouts or delay of game penalties? This will at least reduce the possibility of guys faking an injury.

The NFL could also take a page from English football and let the play continue while a guy is down on the field. Easier said than done in American football since lining up before a play is necessary, but the league cannot let this cowardice activity get out of hand. They must act before this type of activity becomes the norm.

Hopefully, the players will realize that faking injuries is an unbelievably dishonorable act on the football field. If not, the integrity of the game faces real challenges down the road.