BY Art Thiel 07:44AM 10/09/2013

Thiel: Fakery, an international sports tradition

Stanford coach David Shaw’s harsh rebuttal and Steve Sarkisian’s steely stare over alleged fake injuries has created a JV “What’s Your Deal? Bowl “spawned by Harbaugh and Carroll.

Steve Sarkisian didn’t back down in the face of Stanford coach David Shaw’s crisp retort. / Drew Sellers, Sportspress Northwest

The life and football times of former nose tackle Joe Nash, one of the more amusing fellows to don the Seahawks beak, commands two paragraphs on Wikipedia. Here is the second paragraph, in its entirety:

“Though his career was largely unremarkable, he gained notoriety during the 1988-89 playoffs in a divisional playoff game against the Cincinnati Bengals, wherein he suffered repeated fake injuries to his left knee, always preceding a third-down play, under orders from Seahawks head coach Chuck Knox. The ploy was to delay the Bengals from implementing their no-huddle offense, and to allow the defensive team to make undeserved substitutions during the ‘injury’ time out. Nash’s knee was ‘injured’ no fewer than a half-dozen times, and each time after his teams’ substitutions had been completed, he hopped up and returned to the game under his own power.”

Neither Knox nor Nash invented the bogus injury as a sports tactic. I fully expect some day to read about a Biblical scholar who has traced origins of the fib to a moment when Cain told Abel to stop wrestling him because he was hurt, then socked him when Abel wasn’t ready.

Doesn’t excuse it. But never is it new or rare.

In soccer, it’s called diving, or, in more refined circles, simulation. Check out the video here of the alleged 10 worst dives in international soccer — at least, the worst for one day.

In boxing, the tactic is also called diving, or in more crude circles, payday.

In basketball, it’s called flopping. The NBA legend around Dennis Rodman says that, upon hearing a beverage cart banging into a knee in coach, he would reflexively fall out of his seat in first class.

Athletes forever have been dekeing officials or opponents with fake fouls/injuries to gain an edge, or at least a pause. FIFA and the NBA recently have attempted to impose new punishments for floppers, divers and other purveyors of artificial favoring in their sports. But it’s unlikely to have much more deterrent effect than the rules against performance-enhancing drugs.

When it comes to American football, detection, arrest and conviction are even more elusive because opponents are supposed to collide and hurt each other. Which brings us to the dust-up between Huskies coach Steve Sarkisian and his Stanford Cardinal counterpart, David Shaw.

After Washington’s 31-28 loss in Palo Alto Saturday, Sarkisian lamented on post-game radio with KJR-AM that a couple of unnamed Cardinals players claimed injury, stopped the play, and walked off, only to return in a play or two (see video), in an attempt to thwart a fourth-quarter, uptempo drive. To coin a word, he believed they joenashed.

“Their defensive-line coach (former UW assistant Randy Hart) was telling them to sit down,” Sarkisian said. ” I guess that’s how we play here at Stanford, so we’ll have to prepare for that next time. At some point, we’ll get repaid for it. That never serves a purpose for us, and we’ll never do that.”

Shaw waited until Tuesday’s weekly Pac-12 Conference coaches teleconference to fire back, emptying both forward torpedo tubes.

“We don’t fake injuries,” Shaw said. “We never have and we never will. I don’t care what Sarkisian thinks he saw . . .  I have strict instructions from every boss on campus to run a program that’s above reproach.”

He reminded his media audience, although not by name, that Washington employs as an assistant, Tosh Lupoi, “the only coach I’ve ever known to order players to fake injuries.” As a Cal assistant in 2010, Lupoi was suspended one game by his school for admitting that he told Golden Bears defenders to fake injuries in order to slow down Oregon’s offense during a 15-13 loss to the Ducks.

Yet Shaw said it was “unprofessional” for Sark to call out an assistant coach, Hart, in public. Hmm.

Shaw claimed he wasn’t angry with Sarkisian, but “I just think he crossed the line. Could see him tomorrow and say hi. But I’m going to defend what we do.”

Shaw might say hi, but the subsequent oration might be NC-17. Shaw was insulted by Sarkisian’s remark saying, “I guess that’s how we play here at Stanford.”

“How we play here at Stanford,” Shaw said, “is averaging five and a half penalties a game. We’re one of the least-penalized teams in the nation. How we play here at Stanford has led to three BCS bowl games in a row, a Pac-12, a Rose Bowl and an Orange Bowl championship and 100 percent graduation rate.

“We’re one of the most well-respected programs in the nation. I’m not going to put that on the line just to beat Washington.”

In other words: Nee-ner, nee-ner, nee-ner.

Sarkisian didn’t call out Stanford players by name, thereby impugning others. But the reference was to linebacker Shayne Skov and defensive end Ben Gardner, fifth-year seniors and two of the Cardinal’s best. Gardner injured his arm, Skov his knee. Both came out and returned quickly.

An MRI exam taken after the game revealed no structural damage, and the San Jose Mercury News reported that Skov is expected to play Saturday at Utah. Both injuries were reported to be pre-existing. Both players, miffed, retorted to Sarkisian and Seattle fans on Twitter that the injuries were legit.

Given the robust denial by Shaw, there was an expectation during his turn at the teleconference that Sarkisian might recant. But no. He remained quietly defiant.

“I think two reasonable people can disagree on something and move forward,” said Sarkisian, who rebuffed further inquiries.

So . . . what to believe?

In the absence of medical documentation or video proof, Sarkisian is going to have a hard time proving his claim made in public after a difficult loss. Meanwhile, he came off as whiny and impulsive.

On the other hand, Shaw mounting the high horse of program integrity — “never have and never will” — rings a little hollow in the face of this video from the 2010 Oregon-Stanford game in which Cardinal linebacker Chase Thomas has another of those one-play injuries against an uptempo offense. Even TV broadcaster Brent Musburger, longtime horn-honker for the wonders of college football, can’t avoid the obvious.

True, Shaw wasn’t the Stanford head coach in 2010. He was an assistant —  to Jim Harbaugh. You may have heard this summer Harbaugh, now the 49ers coach, mocking the Seahawks’ string of busts for performance-enhancing drug Adderall, saying the 49ers’ high-minded goal in terms of team conduct was to be “above reproach” — the same phrase Shaw used Tuesday.

What’s going on here is gamesmanship. Every coach and player is looking for an edge, legal or extra-legal. Stakes are high: Big money, present and future jobs. The staredown between Shaw and Sarkisian is playing out like a junior varsity “What’s Your Deal? Bowl”  created by their mentors, Harbaugh and Pete Carroll.

Wise is the fan who believes that neither the home team nor the foe owns the high road or the low road. Both travel on the same crowded path at the same time, where they might bump into Chuck Knox and Joe Nash, the one with the perpetual limp.


  • Jamo57

    I thought of Harbaugh too when I saw the ‘above reproach’ line from Shaw. Of course Harbaugh’s was followed by a 49er player being sued by another (if I remember the story correctly) for injuries incurred at a party in the former player’s home. And then the Niners play a player who is headed to rehab a couple of days later.

    It will be interesting to see Karma has in store by bringing forth reproach for the Cardinal. LOL.

    But your overall point is well taken, Art. This is really all schoolyard stuff from middle school by both sides. Some kids never grow up as they used to say on TV.

    • art thiel

      As soon as Harbaugh said it, he was toast.

  • WestCoastBias79

    It may be immature, but I love that Sark called them out on this, and I love their response. It’s always a bit more fun when the real sports take a page from the WWE. In a world where pro athletes are mostly friendly with each other, it’s fun to watch some legitimate dislike drive a rivalry. It’s one of the reasons why the Hawks/Niners rivalry is so much fun. I’m going to enjoy hating Stanford now, just hating Oregon was getting old. The problem now is I don’t know who to root for when they play each other. Oh the difficulties of fandom…

    • Adam Lewis

      The only way this could have been juicier is if Sarkisian would have shot back after Shaw lambasted him during his teleconference call. Oh well, maybe next time.

      • Tian Biao

        Another retort would have been fun, but I don’t think Sark wants to keep this thing going any longer. It’s a distraction. The Ducks are coming, for crying out loud. But yeah, it was juicy, and rare too, the way everyone tiptoes around these days.

        • art thiel

          Sark picked a fight after he was already beaten; bad form.

          • jafabian

            Scoreboard baby!

    • Pixdawg13

      Oh, that’s easy. Hate on the Yucks.

      • WestCoastBias79

        Now that I think about it, you’re right. No contest.

    • art thiel

      Hey, this is great sport for fans and media. Glad it happened, but I urge all not to buy into either side’s pursuit of the high ground. This is college football, which in terms of ruthless, reckless business, is moving on up to Wall Street ethics.

  • jafabian

    A bit surprised that Sark was so public with his comments but I agree when you see a player down for an extended period of time only to come back the next play and play the rest of the game no problem is maddening to say the least. I remember when Nash did this vs. the Bengals. Sam Wyche was going nuts on the sidelines.
    This kind of accusations have gone on for years. A simple rule stating that the injured player has to sit out the half would solve it. Not sure if the NCAA has ever tried to institute such a rule.

    • Matt712

      One would think they could figure out a better deterrent, but sitting out the half is too harsh and could backfire; players who may have a legit problem might try to ignore it (or fake NOT being hurt) because they don’t want to be pulled. Sitting out the rest of the possession might be a happier medium.

      • art thiel

        There isn’t a better deterrent.

    • art thiel

      Such a rule wouldn’t work because players who need only a few plays off (cramps, wind knocked out) would be afraid to ask out. The tactic is virtually unpoliceable.

  • Bayview Herb

    With all of the dot com fortunes hanging out in Seattle, one would think there would be one or two that would be willing to buy the Mariners. … And try to win with them. Hey, we had a guy that spent a fortune trying to bring basketball to Seattle. How about him bringing baseball as well?

    • art thiel

      The Mariners first have to be for sale. Hasn’t happened. If/when it does, the minority owners will have right of first refusal. They likely will be sold within.

      Hansen isn’t a baseball fan.

  • mrRef63

    Great article, Art! Really enjoyed it!

  • notaboomer

    instead of all this pointless blather about faking injuries, how about an interview with coaches to get their thoughts on “League of Denial” and the evidence on cte/head injuries to players of the sport for which they are wildly compensated?

  • gnm20

    Make a tackle on the opening kickoff & there is no notching from the pups.