By Dan Bernstein–
CBSChicago.com senior columnist
(CBS) It’s like Ryan Pace and coach John Fox are just doing what they think they’re supposed to do, actively lying to the public about rookie receiver Kevin White’s fractured shin. The Bears’ general manager and coach had no valid explanation for their pointless, transparent charade, stammering through the aftermath Saturday after finally admitting White will start the season on the physically-unable-to perform list and may miss the entire season.
Asked directly for the reasons behind the disinformation campaign, Pace said, “Protect the player, competitive reasons, all those things.”
All what things?
And how is owning up to a rookie wide receiver’s stress fracture putting the Bears at any kind of competitive disadvantage in the middle of August? Even playing along with this delusional line of thinking, it’s impossible to imagine some catastrophic effect that the news could possibly have when finding its way into the hands of their mortal enemies around the NFL. They treat a kids’ shinbone like it’s nuclear launch codes or the secret spice mixture for KFC, defaulting to paranoia, well … just because.
This was Fox, when pressed directly by reporters to explain how such obfuscation makes his team more likely to win games: “I don’t know. You guys figure that out …I’ve been doing it for 14 years now. That’s the way we do it.”
But taking him up on the challenge, I’m trying to figure it out, and here’s what I think: Pace and Fox are working through respective growing pains on the job, and as they tried to hew to the usual football behaviors – aping others already proven successful – the White fiasco snowballed out of their control.
Pace was probably both scared and embarrassed to learn that his very first draft pick was already injured, understanding that it took no time for his own due diligence to be questioned. Instead of expecting the more likely outcome of surgery being required, he misguidedly hoped that White’s leg would heal on its own as he spewed BS about what was wrong.
Meanwhile, Fox burbled and harrumphed about shin splints, seeming perturbed and flustered by the kind of consistent questioning he may not have experienced in smaller media markets. “I don’t know,” indeed.
Much of this is the fault of Patriots coach Bill Belichick, whose secretive weirdness has cultivated a fallacy about what makes his teams good. We somehow reached a point years ago where anything associated with him and his Patriots must be respected as industry standard, a codified system of best practices that includes the unchallenged assumption that injury information be embargoed to the furthest possible extent. There were those before him just as protective, but not quite as defiantly so.
I agree wholeheartedly with those who say that winning cures all and that the public credibility issues faced by football folks are ultimately unimportant, relative to what the win/loss record is and what’s in their building’s trophy case. The problem, though, lies in the widespread acceptance of lying as fundamentally integral to winning games.
That’s not proven at all, no matter what Belichick does. There’s a long list of factors the really solid organizations do, starting with productive drafting and player development and working down through physical conditioning, teaching methods, strategies for gameplans and play-calling. Oh, and having a spectacular quarterback. That, too.
Lying about what body part hurts on which player is somewhere near the bottom of the list of contributing factors, right near the vital importance of wearing a wrinkled hooded sweatshirt.
Earlier in training camp, Fox outlined his coaching philosophy, saying: “I’ve always been a firm believer that this league is about blocking and tackling. You’re not going to be very good on offense if you can’t block. You’re not going to be very good on defense if you can’t tackle.”
All true, and playing silly games regarding injuries won’t change one bit of that.