As far back as a year ago, when the NFL lockout loomed and there was a growing reality that it would happen, I began thinking about the unique problems it would create.
There is no underestimating the importance of direct daily contact between players and their teams. Without constant communication, there is no support system. And the inability to monitor players' health, conditioning and behavior has already had profound effects.
We all know that Indianapolis Colts quarterback Peyton Manning had neck surgery, but what we didn't know until last week was that his rehabilitation was going slower than expected. Because Manning hasn't had the luxury of working with his trusted trainers in the Colts' facility each day, he hasn't made much progress -- or at least the kind of progress that would have him completely healthy for training camp.
In fact, for the first time since he started running his famous passing camp, Manning didn't even throw a pass or work out last week with the campers. One participant told me that Manning looked extremely lean, clearly not in his normal football shape because his slow rehab hasn't allowed him to train for the season.
If Manning isn't healthy for the opener (if we have an opener), the lockout will be to blame. How many players will not be ready for the opener after season-ending surgery in 2010 and the lack of proper rehab? Too many to name.
Players never rehab well on their own -- which is why by rule any player under contract must comply with the team's doctors and trainers following offseason surgery. Once the lockout is lifted, the players will return, and most coaches and executives will be holding their breath when administering physicals. If Manning -- a player with excellent work habits -- is struggling to get well, imagine how other players are doing.
Another area of concern is conditioning -- not so much for players to handle the rigors of camp, but more for the overweight guys who struggle to monitor their weight all season with supervision.
Every team has one or two or even three guys who -- without supervision -- can gain 30 pounds at the drop of a hat. During bye weeks, teams worry about their "fat" guys gaining too much weight. Imagine how much they gained during this lockout. After more than 100 days without someone over their shoulders prompting them to eat right and work hard, there's no telling how "fat" the "fat" guys have become.
My concern is that, when the lockout is lifted, overweight players might try to lose weight by taking saunas or using medication. The league doesn't want or need another Korey Stringer incident because of the lockout. Every team will have key players report out of shape, overweight and not ready for camp -- that is the reality of this lockout. Teams must manage their "fat" players before letting them practice.
And then there are the behavior issues for players when they are on their own. Now, understand behavior problems occur when there is no lockout, but there are times when teams actually can help a player avoid a mistake. Not many teams can help "Pacman" Jones avoid his problems; trouble seems to follow him whenever he's on his own. But not being locked out could have helped Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker James Harrison avoid looking bad with his choice of words in an interview with Men's Journal.
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Harrison went off on NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, along with his teammates, in the interview, and it made him look bad -- so bad that the linebacker had to speak out and claim his words were taken out of context and he was misquoted. Whether or not that's true, the situation could have been avoided.
Had the lockout not been in place, a Steelers employee would have been in on the interview with Harrison to guard against any damaging questions and make sure he didn't shoot himself in the foot. That's the job of the public-relations department -- to protect the players, coaches and executives to make sure they aren't misquoted or taken out of context.
Harrison's comments were a huge mistake. It's one thing for him to think all the things he said, but it's another to say them to the world.
When Vince Lombardi took over the Green Bay Packers in 1959, he hung up a sign in the locker room to serve as a daily reminder when players left the building. The sign read, "What you see here, what you say here, let it stay here when you leave here." That advice was given to the players some 52 years ago, long before the advent of Twitter or NFL Network.
Harrison still might have said these words had there been no lockout, but at least he would have been reminded before he spoke of the damages he would cause his team, his teammates and most of all himself. When the season begins and Harrison is making plays on the field, announcers will refer back to his stupid quotes. Instead of being known for his outstanding play, Harrison will be known for talking without thinking.
Harrison's words and Manning's rehab are two more reasons to end this lockout and get back to the game we all love.