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Tom Shillue


Luke Falk’s wrist injury saga proves the importance of a free press

Luke Falk’s 2017 season at Washington State University was a pretty unbelievable one, for several reasons.

He broke Jason Gesser’s record for most winningest QB in WSU history. He shattered the record for most passing yards in a college career.

What’s more, according to 24/7 Sports, he accomplished all this with a broken wrist.

If you’re not a WSU alum that obsessively followed this team all season like me, here’s a rundown of the relevant events: Falk left the second game of the season against Boise State in pain. He returned to play in every other game the rest of the regular season. Coach Mike Leach doesn’t talk about injuries, so no one thought anything of it.

Then, all of a sudden, rumors began flying about how Falk wouldn’t be playing in the Holiday Bowl. The rumors turned out to be true, and WSU lost that game to Michigan 42-17.

It turns out when Falk left the field in Week 2, it was because he broke his wrist. He put off surgery for as long as possible, but between the end of the regular season and the bowl game, doctors told him he couldn’t wait anymore.

How did the team manage to keep this information under wraps for nearly four months? Apparently, they were using specific tactics.

Anonymous sources told 24/7 Sports that Falk would wear a cast every game and cover it with a glove. After every game, they would saw off the cast so members of the media wouldn’t notice during press conferences.

I’m a big fan of what Leach has done for the WSU football program; the style of play he promotes is an exciting one, and I’m totally on board for the off-the-wall antics. What I’m not on board for is this brand of Machiavellian behavior, combined with Leach’s inexplicable refusal to talk to the media about injuries.

President Donald Trump’s combative relationship with the press causes consternation among many, including myself. Leach’s relationship to the press is similar in certain ways, but I was forgiving because it never occurred to me that it could be putting players in danger. The Falk situation made me reconsider.

If the press doesn’t get the opportunity to keep coaches accountable, who’s watching out for the players? Sure, there are teams of doctors and trainers. Supposedly, they were consulted and gave the green light in this instance, but the football-industrial complex doesn’t have a great track record when it comes to keeping players safe.

Ultimately, I’m glad this gambit worked out for Falk. His accomplishments look even more impressive now that I know he managed it while nursing a broken wrist. I would never ask an unpaid college athlete to take that risk, though. Had I known about the injury, I like to think I would’ve advocated for Falk to do what was best for his body and take a break.

I’m not happy this gambit worked out for Leach. He got a new contract this year, and although we don’t know details about the length or salary, it’s probably fair to assume he didn’t accept a pay cut. He still refuses to talk to the media about the injury even now that the season is over. He didn’t learn his lesson.

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