I was not sure where to start this post, but probably the best way is with the three news stories on the Daily Links for September 4, 2012. In two stories, we are told of Ryan Mathews pestering the coaching staff to get back on the field to practice a mere 3 weeks after fracturing his clavicle. In another story, we read of Jared Gaither’s insistence that he not return to the field until he is at “his best”.
Most of us, me included, are having some real problems as fans with Gaither’s statement – we have a feeling that 75% of Gaither would give us a better chance to beat the arch rival we open the season against on Monday the 10th than 100% of Mike Harris. I know that I (and I think a few of you) are also mindful of Gaither’s history as a malingerer, prone to nursing injuries beyond the usual point of health (as the NFL defines it), and being a player without much desire or lacking in the “work ethic” that is so often referred to as an “intangible” that coaches love.
The reputation seems to be earned on the basis of a December 2009 injury that kept him on the shelf the last 3 games of the year and then either that injury or another keeping him on IR for all of 2010. (It is interesting to note that Gaither came into the league early due to not making grades at the University of Maryland in the spring semester of 2007. He declared for the supplemental draft and the Ravens used a 5th round pick to get him in July 2007.) What is not mentioned is that he injured his ankle in 2008 and played virtually all of that year in constant pain on a bad ankle.
We would probably feel a lot better about Gaither if the Training staff had popped out an MRI or CT scan on July 30th and said “well, you see this ______ here has gotten ______ and so it is really affecting the _________ and the inflammation around this injury isn’t helping matters any. We need to deal with the inflammation and then go after the root cause of the problem by __________________. He should be good to go in 6 weeks, give or take or week.”
We have that with RM24. The only thing we are aware of with Gaither is his absence and the statement that the team wants him to be “his best”, which we suspect is not a true statement. Locker rooms throughout the NFL are filled with guys that have been on the “doubtful” or “questionable” list for week or more and played after getting their Toradol or Cortisone injections or popping enough Oxycontin or Vicodin to dull the pain enough to perform. Perhaps even Gaither did that in 2008.
As fans, we are all aware of the violence of the game and the culture among the players in this league of playing through the pain. And we as fans are offended with the idea of guy getting $5 Million guaranteed and then shutting it down. Contrast that with the retirement of Kris Dielman, who made a decision and honorably walked away without extracting additional financial gain from his team.
Maybe I should not be too hard on Gaither. Every year, it is not too hard to find reporting on the culture of pain and the conflict every player has between the conflicting desires to do what is right for yourself versus the taught, ingrained attitude of doing what is needed to “help the team”. This was a particularly good series.
And so Gaither sits amid suggestions that maybe he should try and give it a go, and questions about his “character and work ethic”, even suggestions that he is faking the injury that has kept him out of 2012 so far; into Week one at least. Gaither got some got guaranteed scratch and still has a roster spot. He is also under a cloud, but I wonder – while we are pushing him onto the field, maybe we should be pulling Mathews off of it, since we would like him to be fully re-calcified before game contact. After all, the Bolts need him to be 80% or better for most of the season to have a shot at the playoffs. If he re-injuries his shoulder, we don't have a shot at post-season...