BOURBONNAIS —If the Bears aren’t going to tell us Kevin White has a stress fracture, what else are they not going to tell us?
Does Alshon Jeffery really have a “mild calf strain,” as general manager Ryan Pace told reporters Saturday before practice at Olivet Nazarene. You sure he doesn’t have torn ligaments?
After the White episode, I’ll consider Jeffery out for the season until I see him on the field. That’s the fallout — perhaps exaggerated, perhaps not —of the Bears’ awkward handling of White’s injury that cost the Bears new regime a good chunk of credibility with reporters and even some fans who want the straight dope from their team.
It was a learning experience for the 38-year-old Pace, still feeling his way through every NFL process as a first-time general manager. Pace casually announced at the opening of training camp on July 29 that White — the rookie wide receiver from West Virginia who was the No. 7 pick of the draft — would start camp on the physically unable to perform (PUP) list with a shin injury. He chose not to tell us that White had a stress fracture.
“For me, at that point in time, that was enough,” Pace explained. “Protect the player; competitive reasons; all those things. Not get into [the] nitty-gritty details of every injury that we have.”
Withholding injury information is almost a reflex, an autonomic response for NFL people. Nobody can explain the “competitive disadvantage” the Bears face by acknowledging in July that White has a stress fracture. They just do it because everybody else does it that way.
The silliness of it all was illustrated by Fox’s response to the White situation Saturday after practice. Talk about adding insult to injury, Fox literally doesn’t know why he withholds injury information. He does it because that’s what he’s always done. It was an interesting insight into football ignorance at its best.
What’s the detriment to the Bears to revealing the exact nature of the White’s injury?
“I don’t know. You guys figure that out,” Fox said dismissively. “I just know that, by league [rules], we’re required to give you a body part — unless it’s a quarterback or kicker, then we don’t even have to tell you which side. I’ve been doing it for 14 years now, that’s the way we do it.”
That is consistent with the inexplicable paranoia that Fox and many NFL coaches —led by the great and wonderful Bill Belichick — mindlessly adhere to. It’s that fear that drives Fox to prohibit taping of any substantive part of his team’s training camp practice — the fear that something might be revealed that can be used against him.
It’s lunacy, of course. If anything that happens on a practice field in August can be used to beat you in the regular season — that’s on you, pal. And if it’s that critical, do you think opposing teams can’t get the information from a practice that’s open to the public? Do these guys ever think this through?
If they ever did, they might find that there’s a better way.
Take the White situation, for instance. While Fox prefers to “understate and overproduce” when talking about the prospects of his team, almost the opposite tack works best with injuries. Expect the worst, hope for the best.
Don’t take it from me. Take it from Stan Bowman, Joel Quenneville and the three-time Stanley Cup champion Blackhawks. In February, Patrick Kane suffered a broken left clavicle when he was checked into the boards against the Florida Panthers. Instead of the “upper-body” shenanigans, the Hawks acknowledged the injury, the surgery and set a return date of 12 weeks.
Hawks fans feared the worst. That meant the Hawks would have to reach the Western Conference final for Kane to return —an unlikely event without Kane to get them there.
As it turned out, Hawks fans were pleasantly surprised when Kane returned to practice in seven weeks and played in the playoff opener two weeks later. See how that works?
If the Bears had acknowledged White’s stress fracture in July, fans would still be disappointed with the news of his impending surgery. But they wouldn’t be wondering whether Pace and Fox are on the level. Now, they most definitely are.