It’s expected that coaches engage in misdirection and screw with the media. The art of misinformation is considered by many to be a crucial aspect of an effective strategy. Controlling information gives their team an edge in competition. Allowing those outside the team to know what is going on within your building could disrupt your plan to field a winner.
In the NFL this practice can be seen at its most extreme. It is expected by some that coaches will blatantly lie. Numerous NFL teams severely restrict media access, especially during practices and training camp. The Bears are one such team with John Fox wielding a stranglehold over Bears public relations. During training camp under Fox reporters were not allowed to shoot video or take photographs during team drills, could not report anything about team strategy or injuries and had to request player interviews ahead of time. This year those policies were extended to fans.
During the regular season the information doesn’t necessarily improve. People have begun to look forward to the evasive answers provided by Bill Belichick and Gregg Popovich during interviews and press conferences. John Fox answers questions in platitudes and generalities. Why answer a question when you can get away with not?
Ultimately, while it is within the rights of the team to impose such restrictions it will hurt more than help. These restrictions strain the team’s relationship with reporters, and by proxy fans. It may be argued that information coming out of training camp isn’t really important. And coaches have the right to employ whatever strategy and methods they feel is best for their team, obviously with limits for health and safety. Straightforward answers aren’t necessarily expected but there is a difference between obfuscation and dishonesty.
This deception is most obvious when it comes to injuries. Last season Fox repeatedly downplayed the severity of Kevin White’s shin injury. He was out for the season. Pernell McPhee unsuccessfully attempted to manage a knee injury throughout the second half of last season and following the season had arthroscopic surgery to fix the problem. Details on the extent of the surgery have been extremely limited and he has not participated in training camp or preseason thus far. Zach Miller and Eddie Royal have been sidelined with concussions for weeks with very little information given as to their progress. Kyle Fuller had a nagging knee injury the team said they felt he could play through. Now he’s out until Week 1, at least.
This problem is not limited to injury reports, however. John Fox claimed to want Alshon Jeffery back on a long-term contract even though their relationship has consistently been strained. Fox told reporters Martellus Bennett had sore ribs and was day-to-day. The next day Bennett was placed on season-ending injured reserve. The Bears then proceeded to trade Bennett.
At what point is it no longer about information but about trust? When Kyle Long injured his calf early in training camp and was in a walking boot the news from the team was that the injury was probably nothing serious. This turned out to be true, but the opinion of many as this story unfolded was that the Bears were lying.
In the end all that really matters is winning. John Fox was specifically brought in to give the Bears direction, to manage a rebuild and to do it relatively quickly as he had done in the past. If the Bears win games all transgressions, both real and perceived, will be forgiven. But the Bears aren’t expected to win many games this season. Again. They are rebuilding on both sides of the ball. They are lacking in both depth and top-end talent. Without the tangibility of victories it is up to the team to convince people actual progress is being made. How convincing has Halas Hall become?
Without wins how are we to trust in the status of the rebuild?