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The pitfalls of injury disclosure

Pressure from the media and fans makes injury transparency a fraught topic.

MLB: Spring Training-Toronto Blue Jays at New York Yankees Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Considering the reactions to current rash of Yankees injuries, as well as the COVID-19 emergency, I wanted to talk about the different issues that come into play regarding injury disclosure. There are factors operating at every level: whether that be the individual player, the team, league-wide or societal. Keeping in mind that player health should always be at the forefront of concern, the conflicts surrounding injury disclosure can have real and lasting consequences for these athletes.

There is a myriad of digital platforms and near-limitless media access to teams — we are in an unprecedented era of fan-team intimacy. Never before have fans had access to the minute-by-minute updates on the personal lives of athletes that have come via social media. We fans have become so inured to this constant exposure that when certain information is not immediately available, we take it as an affront.

The naked truth is that fans are not owed every minute detail. Simply being a paying customer for an industry service — in this case the entertainment value of supporting your team — does not grant one unlimited claim to unfiltered information. This entitlement is unfounded and does not respect the privacy of athletes as human beings.

Take Trey Mancini for example. The Baltimore star just underwent a successful operation to remove a malignant tumor from his colon. Prior to this announcement, the only information made public was that Mancini had left Orioles camp for a “non-baseball medical procedure.” A matter as personal as this was understandably kept somewhat confidential, and yet some people demanded greater transparency, which is frankly shameful. (On a side note, here’s hoping for a full recovery for Mancini.)

While the CBA permits teams to share injury details with the media and public, it by no means requires them to do so. There is no imperative for a team to disclose comprehensive information about a player’s injury; rather they do so as a good faith service to fans who wish to be kept up-to-date. This courtesy should not be conflated with carte blanche permission to every private medical item.

The Yankees had no obligation to divulge real-time details about Aaron Judge’s injury, or the tests he underwent. Nor are they required to do the same regarding Gary Sanchez’s back injury. They chose the responsible route in waiting for the full set of facts before revealing anything definitive about Judge and I expect the same with Gary. Again, they provide the level of transparency as a token of goodwill to fans. Please do not take this for granted.

Another problem with team disclosure of injuries relates to the provision of recovery timetables. This can put undue pressure on a player to adhere to the publicly-stated schedule, thus risking arriving while not fully 100 percent. Combined with the hue-and-cry of the fan base that players return and produce as quickly as possible, athletes can be in serious danger of re-aggravating the rehabbed injury, if not getting hurt even worse.

While I have so far examined the sticky situations created by the disclosure of medical information to the public, I would now like to turn to the aspect of this issue within teams. Specifically, when players fail to disclose their injuries to the team. The two notable cases that jump to mind are Luke Voit and Aaron Judge.

Voit withheld the extent of his hernia injury last season while Judge suppressed the discomfort caused by what ended up being a broken rib, both out of desires to remain available for the team. Voit’s production took a nosedive after the injury, which ended up costing the team from a production standpoint. Judge failed to let his rib heal over the offseason, jeopardizing his start to the season as well as the team’s offensive potency and outfield depth.

Athletes withholding injury information from their teams is a serious problem, and one that is born out of societal pressure. The phrases such as “be a man,” “suck it up,” and “play through the pain,” drive athletes to make these career-threatening decisions. While certainly a professional athlete wants to play as much as possible and will remain on the field as long as they are physically capable, this still does not lessen the hazards to future earnings. Sometimes it takes even more courage to put the team before yourself and take the time to heal, rather than hamper the team’s performance by gritting it out on the field. The more that injuries, no matter the severity, become trivialized, the greater the risk for the athlete.

We need to create an environment that people feel comfortable being honest about the afflictions that ail them, rather than feel ashamed at admitting one’s own vulnerability. Take Junior Seau for example, the NFL Hall of Fame linebacker who took his own life after suffering with CTE-related depression. That is why the efforts of players across sports like Kevin Love and Brandon Marshall to remove the stigma surrounding mental health are so invaluable.

The age of analytics and social media reduces athletes to the most granular level for dissection and comparison. This depersonalization makes one numb to the fact that these are still human beings who deserve the same privacy as us fans. Especially when it comes to medical matters, we should all take a step back and appreciate the physical and mental battles these athletes go through every day.