Why the NFL Must Bring Back “Probable” Injury Designation

Throughout most of the 1950s — until he drunk himself to death at the age of 48 in 1957 — Senator Joseph McCarthy (R-Wisconsin) went after alleged Communists in the U.S. government so aggressively that he was accused of "looking for communists under every bed."

Of course, McCarthy was knocked down — though not out — in what was billed as the Army-McCarthy hearings in 1954 (carried coast-to-coast on live television in what was perhaps the first such telecast in American history), during which Joseph Welch delivered his famous line: "Have you no sense of decency, sir? At long last, have you left no sense of decency?" One month later the Senate voted to censure McCarthy — second only to impeachment in the arsenal of sanctions at the Senate's disposal.

(This had not been McCarthy's first foray into the dark side: in March of 1948, McCarthy led a pack of like-minded far-right jackals in demanding that the Army commute the death sentences, handed out in a trial held at the site of the infamous Dachau concentration camp in the spring of 1946, of 43 SS officers accused of torturing and murdering American soldiers captured at the Battle of the Bulge, McCarthy & Co. spuriously claiming that the brave SS men had been "tortured" themselves in order to obtain confessions from them. Although the original death sentences were commuted to life imprisonment in 1951, all 43, plus 31 who had received lesser sentences, were out of prison by 1960).

But what does this have to do with the NFL — or any of the other of our sports leagues for that matter — you ask?

In 2016, the NFL eliminated "probable" as an injury status option — because they believed that certain teams, most notably the Patriots and Cowboys, were "abusing" the designation.

And why does the injury list even exist in the first place?

For the answer, one has to go back to the mid-1960s — the peak of Vince Lombardi's dynasty in Green Bay. The owners were so deathly afraid of a redux of the "point-shaving" scandal that almost destroyed college basketball 15 years prior, that Pete Rozelle, of all people, went on bended knee to the Vegas sports books, imploring them to take the biggest mismatches (particularly those involving Lombardi's Packers) "off the board" — that is, not allowing any money to be wagered on either team therein.

(This is also the origin of the terms "outlaw line" and "offshore line," since a few, generally smaller, Vegas sports books did not abide by the agreement and continued to accept bets on these games, as did sports books outside the United States, especially in the Caribbean: in a 1966 Atlanta at Green Bay game — the Falcons were a first-year expansion team that season — the Packers were installed as 26½-point favorites by what few books accepted wagers on the game, won by Green Bay 56-3).

But obviously the sports books would want something in return — and what was agreed to were the weekly injury reports, as we know them.

Therefore, the NFL made their bed — so now they should have to sleep in it.

And if the league is so concerned about "abuse," they can always perform "spot checks" by sending "spies" to the training facilities of teams that, in their judgment, might be "abusing" the "probable" designation. Teams that are listing hale-and-hearty players as "probable" can be fined for the first infraction, and even be stripped of draft choices for subsequent infractions.

But the NFL should not be looking for abuses of the injury list under every bed — plus acting preemptively (which having eliminated the "probable" option amounts to) is seldom if ever a good idea, whether in sports, warfare (as was proven in Iraq) or any other endeavor — and whether they like it or not, with sports betting now legal in so many states, John Q. Public, even if he bets on the games, has the right to know what players may or may not be injured, and, if they are injured, how seriously.

As REO Speedwagon sang back in the day, it's time for the NFL to roll with the changes — even if they don't particularly like those changes; and it goes without saying that they don't like the expanded sports betting, despite having hypocritically entered into open partnerships with FanDuel and DraftKings, both of which have morphed from strictly fantasy-oriented platforms to full-blown sportsbooks.

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