On keeping injuries quiet and reputations

Chris Johnson didn't reveal he played most of the season with a torn meniscus until this week. Ron Chenoy/USA TODAY Sports

NEW YORK -- Chris Johnson had surgery to clean up a torn meniscus that he said he played with for 13 games in 2013.

Whatever questions I have had about Johnson, none have ever been about his toughness. He's been a durable back for the Tennessee Titans. That is a rare and admirable quality.

I am sure the tear hampered him to some degree. But I bet he'd say if he's healthy enough to play, he's healthy enough to find more than 3.9 yards a carry, which was the primary issue for Johnson in the recently completed season.

From ESPN's injury expert, Stephania Bell:

“There are numerous different types of tears. A small one may not have bothered him much. Remember Maurice Jones-Drew did the same thing a few years ago and had it cleaned up after season.”

Johnson is the second member of the Titans to reveal an injury played a part in the 2013 season well after it had ended. Linebacker Akeem Ayers tweeted on Jan. 17 about having played the whole year with a troublesome knee.

Johnson revealed his knee issue on Monday. He had surgery and tweeted that it was a success.

The injuries in question belong to Johnson and Ayers. If they aren't missing practices or games, the team isn't obligated to mention them in injury reports. I respect their right to choose what to say and what not to say.

But keeping injuries secret doesn't serve players well in the perception department. Perhaps now we're saying, “Wow, he toughed it out and that's impressive.” But if a guy fails to perform to expectations like both Johnson and Ayers did this year, they get criticized for it, and I think that's fair. They had ample opportunity to give us a hint.

Guys keep injuries as quiet as they can for several reasons.

  1. They don't want to alert opponents to a problem that could be exploited.

  2. They don't want to appear to be complaining or making excuses.

  3. Their coaches and teams mandate they keep a lid on it.

Regarding No. 1: Plenty of guys tell you it's hard at full speed to concentrate on an opponent's body part. Are you worried about getting the speedy Johnson to the ground, or are you worried about getting him to the ground while focusing on a knee? Good luck if you go for the second approach.

Regarding No. 2: I'd never hit a guy for saying, “There is an issue affecting things here that I'll tell you about after the season. It's not an excuse, I'm just telling you there is more to it than you may think.” Andy Levitre basically did that this season and his hip issue came to light at the end. He didn't get criticized at all for making excuses or being soft.

Regarding No. 3: It's your injury, and you get to decide how to treat it and what to say about it, not your coach. It's very easy for a coach to minimize something serious, and it can ruin a reputation. See Tom Coughlin in Jacksonville saying Fred Taylor had a groin strain when he actually had a muscle torn off the bone. The running back became “Fragile Fred” because he was a good soldier and allowed his team to control information about his injury.

It's a tough spot. There is no easy way to sort through it, and there are avenues for criticism no matter what a guy's approach is.

We'll get a better sense of how much the injuries held Johnson and Ayers back when they're fully healthy and back on the field.

But if their injuries were a big factor in their lack of production, their images and reputations would have been far better served by indicating something was going on.