I don’t gamble, on sports or anything else. Maybe I am the wrong person to tackle this subject. But as a sports medicine orthopedic surgeon, I know and care about athletes’ injuries. That’s why I’m interested in the debate regarding public disclosure of players’ injuries in regard to now-legalized sports gambling. I discuss the idea, and some potential questions we need to consider, in my latest newspaper column.
Damian Lillard injury sparks cries for injury reports
Mandatory reporting of injuries is back in the news after Portland Trail Blazers guard Damian Lillard admitted to playing Game 3 of the Western Conference Finals with a separated rib. Lillard, whose injury was not listed on the team’s injury report, shot 5-for-18 in a home loss to the Golden State Warriors.
As more states choose to legalize sports gambling, calls for widespread availability of information regarding players’ injuries will only increase. This demand won’t just affect professional sports. It’s coming to our colleges too.
Gambling insiders cry foul at LeBron James playing with an undisclosed hand injury
Lillard’s injury evokes memories of the more publicized LeBron James hand injury last year, one we later learned occurred in Game 1 of the NBA Finals. James arrived at the final post-game press conference wearing a soft cast, admitting he “pretty much played the last three games with a broken hand.” Like Lillard, James never appeared on the injury report.
Oddsmakers largely decried the team’s (and the NBA’s) failure to disclose the injury. Now that the NBA has a gaming partnership deal with MGM Resorts, expect more scrutiny of NBA injuries.
The NFL injury reporting requirements
Gambling experts want reports like the NFL requires. A team must disclose a player’s injured body part and whether the player is probable, questionable, doubtful, or out for the upcoming game. The league requires teams to include a “reasonable degree of specificity” in the reports.
Lack of injury reporting threatens the integrity of the games?
Proponents of injury reports claim secrecy regarding injuries threatens the integrity of the games. If injury information is kept hidden, questionable people could bribe insiders with the teams or medical staffs, or even the players themselves, to gain an unfair advantage.
Medical privacy and injury reports
In college sports, the NCAA and universities could be shielded by the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) that governs medical privacy, and the Family Education Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) that protects the privacy of student records. Still, commissioners and athletic directors of the Power 5 conferences largely expect to implement injury reports in the near future.
Injury reporting soon coming to college sports
In fact, the NCAA Gambling Working Group will soon propose a pilot program requiring coaches to list players as “available,” “possible,” or “unavailable,” without listing the specific injury, according to CBS Sports.
I understand both sides of the argument, and I’m still on the fence. It seems inevitable that injury reports are coming to pro and college sports. As we move forward, the leagues and NCAA need to consider some key questions.
Can college students waive privacy rights?
The NFL Players Association contract allows teams to disclose injuries. It’s part of the collective bargaining agreement. The players are employees. In college, student-athletes are not employees. Can schools or the NCAA require them to waive their privacy rights regarding injuries?
Would an “availability” report be better for privacy?
Is there a way to protect athletes’ privacy and still give information to the public? Maybe the leagues create an “availability report” rather than an injury report, just listing a player as “out” or “doubtful,” without citing the specific injury. Or the team could only list “upper body injury” or “lower body injury,” much like the National Hockey League (NHL) does now.
Should teams report non-injury information?
Should we include non-injury situations in an availability report, like suspensions, off-the-field issues and academics?
Will leagues strict monitor injury reporting?
Will an injury report be mandatory and uniform across all teams in a league and all colleges in the NCAA? Will each team’s reports be monitored to avoid Bill Belichick-type manipulation? Belichick listed Tom Brady on the injury report before every game for three straight years, even though Brady played 127 consecutive games, including those three years.
Does the media deserve access to team practices?
Will the media gain access to at least some of each team’s practice so reporters can see for themselves who sat out of contact drills, who wore a boot, and who practiced against the starters or the backups?
Should gamblers have access to players’ x-ray and MRI results?
Must teams report results of players’ X-rays and MRIs? Should teams disclose that a player even underwent one of these tests?
Will opponents use the information to target players’ injuries?
Will public knowledge of injuries lead opposing players to target the player’s bad knee or ankle, much like NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman has argued?
Should coaches report every ache and pain each player has?
If players like LeBron James and Damian Lillard had injuries that were never going to keep them from playing but could impact their performance, are we really going to make teams report every nagging ache and pain that every player has for the “integrity” of point spreads and prop bets? Is every college football head coach going to sit down and list every case of knee tendinitis or sore elbow in up to 100 players just so someone can bet a running back will rush for 84 yards instead of 112 on Saturday?
Will public injury reporting keep unscrupulous people away from players?
And will open reporting of injuries really keep unscrupulous people away from players, especially young college students?
This injury issue won’t be settled quickly. There will be strong opinions on both sides. It’s critical that we consider all the ramifications and make the right decision.
Note: Dr. David Geier is an orthopedic surgeon in Charleston and author of “That’s Gotta Hurt: The Injuries That Changed Sports Forever.” A modified version of this article appears as my sports medicine column in the April 22, 2019 issue of The Post and Courier.
Reliable injury info hard to come by. By Brian Windhorst. ESPN.com. May 20, 2019.
Report: NCAA may have first ever player injury reports in 2019. By Jordan James. 247 Sports. May 1, 2019.
Why Are There No NCAA Injury Reports In The Age Of Legal Sports Betting? By John Holden. Legal Sports Report. April 14, 2019.
In The Courts: The State of NBA Betting. By Tom Haberstroh. NBC Sports Philadelphia. December 13, 2018.
NHL, MGM sports betting partnership: How new deal will — or won’t — impact injury reports. By Jackie Spiegel. Sporting News. October 29, 2018.
Court’s gambling ruling puts NCAA at crossroads of injury information, privacy acts. By Wendell Barnhouse. Global Sports Matters. August 21, 2018.
NCAA injury debate pits player privacy vs. gambling concerns. Associated Press. FOX Sports. August 10, 2018.
8 Possible NCAA Betting Side Effects From Football Injury Reporting. By Brett Smiley. Sports Handle. July 28, 2018.
Sports gambling decision may mean a national injury report for college football. By Joseph Duarte. Houston Chronicle. July 28, 2018.
Why college football injury reports seem destined to become complicated mess. By James Kratch. NJ.com. July 2018.
Brady’s three-year streak on injury report comes to an end. By Christopher L. Gasper. Boston Globe. September 6, 2008.