Does the NFL Need a Fakeologist?

Already dealing with the concussion issue as a subset of labor-management negotiations, the NFL needs a standard to deal with fakeology and how owners, players and coaches mess with game time, not 32 different policies with voluntary standards set by each team.
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While league officials praise new rules that reduce dangerous hits, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell has vowed to penalize teams who game the league's injury policies.

By threatening heavy fines and loss of draft picks if given "reasonable cause," the commissioner appears to have handed the ball off to team owners and their staffs of qualified medical and security professionals.

But whether Goodell did a fake handoff remains to be seen. Already dealing with the concussion issue as a subset of labor-management negotiations, the NFL needs a standard to deal with fakeology and how owners, players and coaches mess with game time, not 32 different policies with voluntary standards set by each team. Even the US Congress, which grants an anti-trust exemption to the NFL and its revenue sharing system that is tantamount to sports world socialism, would amen to that.

From pre-charted opening plays to halftime shows and networks clamoring for more official time outs to generate ad revenue in a down economy, NFL scripting monetizes every second of the game.

FIFA Football (soccer), meanwhile, is the world's most bureaucratized, most popular and most heavily bet-on sport. Unlike the NFL, which must bargain with a players union (NFLPA), FIFA does not tolerate American-style organized labor tactics and accommodates real and fake injuries by tacking on injury time, counted by a FIFA official, near the end of each game.

The formula works for FIFA's 208 members, more states than the UN. Game-deciding goals scored during injury time, however, do raise eyebrows, resulting in the shooting or murder of a player or referee now and then and provide work for Interpol's big new sports crime operation headquartered in Singapore, funded in part with FIFA money.

But injury time doesn't resolve the fakeology issue in the culture of the NFL, which is the world's most lucrative business model for sports marketers and entertainment interests. In Brazil, FIFA's biggest market, Corinthians of São Paulo boasts a fan base that mirrors the NFL's rough and tumble "Raider Nation." And US president Obama's favorite futebol team, Flamengo of Rio, moves branded product through mall and online shops that help make its gear as valued as official NFL merchandise.

With the front page of the NFL's website budgeting almost as much space to "fantasy football" as the game itself, Sunday's drama involving the broken hand of Eagles quarterback Michael Vick throws some sunshine on the fake versus reality divide. Injury drama keeps fans watching, tweeting, and using the mobile web in other ways that bring more dollars into the digital economy.

Vick wasn't faking anything when his right hand was injured on a clean hit by defensive tackle Chris Canty during the second half of Sunday's Giants-Eagles classic in Philly. His non-throwing hand was a non-factor in orchestrating the drive that put the Eagles ahead in what had become a close and chippy game. One could watch reruns of the play-by-play and conclude that Vick's risky run and gun style was starting to change the momentum.

After the Canty hit, Vick was taken to the locker room for x-rays. Vick took more hits early in the 4th quarter that caused him to play ineffectively, was sent in for more x-rays and was finally taken out of the game for good. In a matter of minutes, network TV, sports websites, bloggers and newspapers set off a flash mob about the broken hand that even got play from the New York Times.

Vick rips into ref after broken hand was the headline over at Yahoo!. Popular sports website Lockersmash reported Vick blamed his broken hand on a late hit. Major sports and entertainment networks ran a video of Vick nursing his broken hand, claiming the referees aren't giving him the same zone of protection in the pocket as some other NFL quarterbacks, prompting ESPN analyst Trent Dilfer to call out the former pit bull owner and sports gambler as being out of line. But the bottom line is that people like to watch hits in the NFL as much as NASCAR fans like to watch cars crash into the wall.

With Vick cleared to play just six days after suffering a concussion against Atlanta, and forced out of this game with the hand problem, the Giants won big and covered the gambling lines set by casino sports books in Vegas and elsewhere.

There was a chaotic 18-hour reality gap until Eagles coach Andy Reid finally told the media on Monday that initial x-rays did not show a broken right hand. According to reporting of Reid's storytelling, a second set of x-rays showed only the possibility for a broken hand.

Sports websites claim that whoever read the images of Vick's non-throwing hand during game time misdiagnosed them and that a CT scan taken the following day revealed just a bad bruise. Mobile CT scanners and MRI machines are parked alongside VA hospitals and private managed care units every day and there is no reason that they can't show up at NFL stadiums on any given Sunday.

All this provided coach Reid with reasonable cause to address the issue, pre-empting commissioner Goodell from doing the same. Vick subsequently issued an apology to the referees and the Eagles said if the quarterback felt good he might play against San Francisco this coming Sunday. When Vick was knocked out of the game against the Falcons two weeks ago, the Eagles during the contest claimed it was due to a neck injury. Then during post-game media time they changed their story with coach Reid admitting that the quarterback had suffered a concussion.

Considering the need for a league standard to discourage and penalize teams and owners from gaming injury policies, a fakeologist might be helpful. But with Vick's broken hand and the Colts downsizing Peyton Manning's neck injury when it's actually a delicate spinal fusion that might end his career if he wants to fully recover, a truth booth might be a better call.

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