November 10, 2012 at 8:15 pm

John Niyo

NFL injury reports a weekly joke

More than half of Lions coach Jim Schwartz's 22 starters were listed on the injury report this week as they prepared for Sunday’s game at Minnesota. Yet the vast majority of those players will be in uniform this weekend. (Daniel Mears/Detroit News)

Allen Park -- The weekly NFL injury report is not unlike a child's Christmas list. Not unlike the ones already circulating around my house, at least.

The lists typically are a bit unrealistic — at times laughably so. And they grow longer and longer — to the point of unwieldy — as the calendar flips to December.

Injuries? In the NFL? Oh, you better watch out, you better not cry …

"I think everybody in here," guard Rob Sims said, motioning toward the rest of the Lions' locker room, "everybody's got something that's nagging, or worse."

Indeed, that's a familiar refrain this time of year, as coaches and players alike shrug off questions about injuries — "Injuries are a fact of life in the NFL, we all recognize that," Lions coach Jim Schwartz said Thursday — right up until the point the league office calls to inquire about one, or to scold and/or threaten a fine.

That probably explains why the Lions were busy issuing statements after practice Friday in Allen Park, attempting to clarify the injury status of All-Pro receiver Calvin Johnson. He'd talked Thursday about the nerve damage and — again — the possible effects of a concussion he now says he "did not suffer," according to Friday's news release, in Detroit's last game against Minnesota a month ago.

Johnson, who declined to speak with reporters about the issue Friday, said he "misused" the terms "nerve damage" and "concussion," which, by the way, is far more plausible than it sounds.

"I did suffer a stinger and have also experienced the kind of wear and tear that most NFL players are dealing with at this point in the season," Johnson's statement concluded.

Draw whatever conclusions you want from all this. To me, it's mostly a bunch of nonsense. Just like the weekly injury reports NFL teams file, as Ravens coach John Harbaugh so eloquently noted earlier this month.

"There's no credence on the injury report now," Harbaugh said, after his team was fined $20,000 for failing to follow the league's delightfully-vague policy. "It doesn't mean anything. It has no value. The injury report has no value."

So, then, take this at face value as you place your bets — legally, of course — and set your fantasy football lineups this weekend. (That's the late-1940s genesis of the NFL injury reports, in case you didn't know: As a way to fend off gambling influences.)

Abuse of process

More than half of the Lions' 22 starters were listed on the injury report this week as they prepared for Sunday's game at Minnesota. A total of 319 NFL players were listed on this week's injury report, a number that doesn't even include four teams on a bye week.

Yet the vast majority of those players will be in uniform this weekend, regardless of what ails them. Because that is what NFL players do over the course of a long, painful 16-game regular season. They play hurt. Or injured, depending on your definition of the NFL's definition.

The NFL policy requires teams to list "all players with significant or noteworthy injuries" on the daily and weekly reports. Even if that player doesn't miss any practice time, or if he's "certain" to play in the next game. The policy goes on to say that it's "especially true of key players and those players whose injuries have been covered extensively by the media."

The Ravens were dinged for not listing veteran safety Ed Reed even though, as he revealed in a radio interview, he'd played most of the season with a partially-torn labrum in his shoulder.

Harbaugh's response: "We'll just put every guy on there that has a hangnail and go from there."

He went on to credit New England's Bill Belichick, who has long made a quiet mockery of the injury report. For years, quarterback Tom Brady was a weekly fixture on the report, listed as "probable" with a shoulder injury — even as he played 128 consecutive games.

The past two weeks, the Patriots listed 19 players on their injury report. And sure enough, the Ravens' injury report ballooned from five names to 20 after Harbaugh's rant.

Two weeks earlier, the Bills were docked $20,000 for failing to report defensive end Mario Williams' wrist injury, and their injury report has since doubled in size, from single digits to 20 players.

(The Redskins also were fined $20,000 for claiming quarterback Robert Griffin III was "shaken up" when he actually suffered a concussion.)

Schwartz, not surprisingly, had no interest in talking about his team's list Friday.

"Our injury report comes out at 5 o'clock today," the coach said. "I'll just stop there."

Asked a follow-up question about Johnson's "stinger" injury not appearing on previous week's injury reports — he has been listed with foot, ankle and knee injuries this season — Schwartz replied, "We have a lot of guys that suffer a lot things that don't affect their ability to go out and practice or don't affect their ability to be available for games. If something is bothering somebody, and it's on something, then it'll be put on the injury report."

When I asked how the team decides what injuries are "significant" or "noteworthy," Schwartz answered, "I'm not the one that decides that."

Well, then, who does? Is it Dean Kleinschmidt, the team's head athletic trainer?

"I've said enough," Schwartz said.

'Non-story'

After another follow-up, Schwartz sounded understandably exasperated.

"Any questions about the Minnesota Vikings?" Schwartz asked. "This is a non-story and we're making it a story. It's a non-story. If there's no questions about the Vikings, then we're done."

OK, then, here's one that came a few minutes later: Did he still expect the Vikings' Percy Harvin to play, even though he didn't practice all week with an ankle injury. (Harvin was officially listed as "doubtful" on the Vikings' final injury report later Friday.)

"We're gonna prepare for him," Schwartz said. "We're certainly not gonna be surprised if he does."

Of course they will. This is the NFL, isn't it?

john.niyo@detnews.com

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