NEW YORK — To the fake handoff and fake field goals, add fake injuries.
The NFL sent a memo Wednesday to all 32 teams warning of fines, suspensions and loss of draft picks if the league determines players faked injuries during a game. Yet several players admit it’s an accepted practice, and some coaches hinted they are not above condoning phony injuries if it provides a competitive edge.
“I’ve been places where it has been (taught),” said Browns linebacker Scott Fujita, a member of the players’ union executive committee. “They have a name for it, and I’ve been places where it’s been pre-called. I’ve been places where it’s one player who has been designated. Maybe I’m getting everyone in trouble, but I’m just being honest.”
In the memo obtained by The Associated Press, the NFL reminded teams of league policy that calls on coaches to discourage the practice. There is no specific rule on the topic.
Nonetheless, two days after there was speculation that the Giants’ Deon Grant faked an injury against the Rams during Monday night’s game, the NFL is warning of disciplinary action.
“It’s always been in the game,” Ravens All-Pro safety Ed Reed said. “It’s all tactical stuff you need to use. Whatever it takes. ... If you’re tired, you’re tired. You get a break however you can.”
Added 49ers running back Frank Gore: “Hey, I feel if it helps, do it. I’m bound to do it. Whatever it takes to win ...”
Rams coach Steve Spagnuolo said Tuesday the team notified the league office that it suspected the Giants were feigning injuries in St. Louis’ 28-16 loss. Rams quarterback Sam Bradford said it was obvious the Giants were just buying time with St. Louis running a no-huddle offense.
“They couldn’t get subbed. They couldn’t line up,” Bradford said. “Someone said, ‘Someone go down, someone go down,’ so someone just went down and grabbed a cramp.”
Grant was adamant about not having faked anything.
“I could see if I was walking and fell,” he said Wednesday, speaking passionately and barely taking a breath. “When you see after I made that tackle and bang my knee on that play, you see me bending my knee as I am walking. ... (Teammate Justin) Tuck is walking behind me and saying ‘D, don’t run off the field. Just go down.’ As I am walking, they line up, and knowing that I can’t get back in my position because of the knee injury, I went down.”
Had Grant attempted to get off the field, it could have left the Giants a defender short when the ball was snapped. Of course, New York also could have called a timeout, a course of action teams might need to use in the future.
Redskins coach Mike Shanahan was coy about the tactic when asked if he ever instructed a defense to do it.
“I can’t say I have,” Shanahan said before pausing. “But I won’t say I haven’t, either.”
Then he smiled.
“It happens all the time, and warnings will come out,” he added, “and it’s happened again.”
The memo from the league said:
“Going forward, be advised that should the league office determine that there is reasonable cause, all those suspected of being involved in faking injuries will be summoned promptly to this office ... to discuss the matter. Those found to be violators will be subject to appropriate disciplinary action for conduct detrimental to the game.”
The league’s competition committee often has discussed this issue but has been reluctant to propose a rule that could force game officials to make judgments on injuries.
“We have been fortunate that teams and players have consistently complied with the spirit of the rule over the years and this has not been an issue for the NFL,” the memo said. “We are determined to take all necessary steps to ensure that it does not become an issue.”
For the most part, such delay tactics have been considered gamesmanship, similar to a hockey goalie suddenly needing equipment repairs when his team is getting besieged. Or untouched soccer players writhing on the ground in pain to get a stoppage — and to slow momentum built by the other side.
“As an offensive player, you always think guys are faking in that situation,” Eagles guard Kyle DeVan said. “But you don’t know for sure. You don’t know when guys are going to cramp up, so you have to be careful. The most important thing is players’ health. You would hope guys don’t do it, but it’s going to happen.”
It might be planned, too.
While calling it “real bush league” — no pun intended — Dolphins running back Reggie Bush said a coach “just designates a guy who fakes an injury. It’s usually not a captain of the team. It’s a guy who’s expendable.”
The NFL’s disciplinarians will be watching for that.