I’m a soccer player. Always have been, and at some level, always will be. I also enjoy watching American football (despite the fact that both my fantasy teams crumbled to dust this weekend. Damn you and your 65 points, Peyton Manning!). That said, it’s impossible for me to count the number of times that I’ve been told that soccer is for [wusses], what with all that faking and rolling around on the ground.
They’re not exactly wrong. Soccer is full of faked injuries at all levels, not just professional. I even played against a team in high school that did it consistently. In fact, one of the most infamous, not-so-subtle demonstrations was by Brazil in the Women’s World Cup (do watch the video, it really is awful). For the record, players usually don’t fake injuries because they’re frail and easily hurt. Usually, its to gain a tactical advantage. In the Brazil case, it was to burn time off the clock to secure a win in overtime (it didn’t work, in what is arguably one of the greatest comebacks in sports history, certainly for the U.S.). Other times it’s to draw a foul, or attempt to get another player carded (carded players need to tone down aggression or risk being ejected with a second card). Although these tactics aren’t exactly sportsmanlike, tactical fouls have a long place in sports history, and faking injuries/fouls is no exception (think soccer and basketball, trying to draw a charge foul). However, no sport has incurred the ridicule associated with fake injuries like soccer.
Well guess what? Turns out, the NFL likes to fake injuries too! Future Hall-of-Famer (hopefully) Brian Urlacher (a man among men of linebackers) has admitted it. I remember playing football in high school. As a kicker, I was told to dive onto the ground anytime an opposing player came near me on a field goal to try and draw a penalty. The coaches got pretty mad if I got touched and stayed on my feet. Today, Jerry Jones called out the New York Giants for it in Sunday’s game. The Giants lost two players to injuries on back-to-back plays on a drive where the Cowboys were trying to up the tempo of the game. Is Jerry Jones right? Who knows. Football is a brutal sport. Its likely that the injuries are real (your first thought on seeing any injury should be: ‘I hope he’s OK’. It should not be whatever Kansas City fans do). But they also might not be. Or, they could be some combination of a minor injury that gets addressed at an opportune moment. I’m not making any judgement on whether the injuries mentioned by Jones are real, I’m merely commenting on the trend in general.
Personally, I’d like to see some sort of formal analysis of when injuries occur. It wouldn’t surprise me to see that the number of minor injuries (assessed by the player returning to practice or the game in the next week) increases substantially in the final minutes of the game, when teams are running hurry-up offenses to put points on the board. I’d do this, but I don’t have the time right now.
I’m not mocking football (ok, I am slightly), I still really enjoy watching it. I just like irony.