Does the Team Owe Us Full Disclosure?
Posted by Zach Lowe on Sep 29, 2009
Last week, we waded into the debate about whether the team is being honest in its descriptions of Kevin Garnett’s knee surgery. Specifically, we wondered about comments from Bill Simmons and Will Carroll suggesting the surgery to remove bone spurs from KG’s right knee also involved the stapling of a tendon in the same area. If it happened, such an operation would seem to contradict public statements from team officials declaring that the surgery was a routine procedure to remove bone spurs, and that KG’s tendon was not “touched” in the process.
For the record, I don’t know the actual nature of Garnett’s surgery or the state of his knee.
The question I have is: Should I?
There is a portion of commenters, both here and elsewhere, who reacted angrily to the reports of a possible lack of transparency in the team’s handling of KG’s injury. Those commenters usually referenced last season, when, in their view, the team was not forthright about Garnett’s status as the regular season wound down. We didn’t hear about the bone spurs until after the team shut him down for the season. Same with the strained popliteus tendon; the team referred to that injury as a “strained muscle,” which isn’t inaccurate but also isn’t exactly a detailed description of the state of Garnett’s knee. The constant speculation in April about KG’s playoff status left part of the fan base feeling as if the team had jerked them around—that the organization always knew more than it was letting on, leaving us to parse vague public comments and interpret surprise appearances at practices to determine KG’s health going into the playoffs.
My question is: Does the team owe us anything else? Do they have a burden of openness toward fans who watch the games on TV and buy tickets?
This is a very, very complicated question, one that involves dozens of different scenarios. I think we can agree, for instance, that the team was correct in not disclosing that Ray Allen was having hamstring problems during the Eastern Conference semi-finals against Orlando. To reveal the existence of a day-to-day pain—one that would not keep Allen out of the line-up—would be to hand a tactical advantage to an opponent who could then exploit it.
As for the state of Garnett’s knee toward the end of last season, it’s reasonable to assume the Celitcs knew more than they revealed publicly. To us, as outsiders, it seemed a near certainty that Garnett would play in the post-season; the announcement that he would not came as a surprise gut punch. But the team likely knew the odds were against Garnett playing. At the very least, they knew there was a significant chance he would not play.
Should they have told us that? Do they owe us that sort of openness?
I would argue that, in that specific scenario, they do not. I understand the arguments on the other side. We watched those late April games and purchased playoff tickets under the assumption that KG would be playing in the post-season. At least some fans set aside those three hours every other night because they believed they were watching a championship contender prepare itself for the playoffs. Had they known there was a large chance KG would not return, perhaps a segment of fans would have tuned out.
But the team’s ultimate goal is to win a title. If they truly believed there was a chance KG would be ready for the playoffs (and I think they obviously did), they had no responsibility to update us daily on the odds of that happening. The organization’s true responsibility was to prepare the remaining players to function at the highest possible level without Garnett. To say on April 1, for instance, that the odds were against KG playing into May could have given other contenders a psychological boost and impacted the way teams at both the top and bottom of the standings approached playoff positioning. The Celtics had no advantage to gain by disclosing the full truth.
But that’s in a situation of uncertainty—one in which the team is not completely sure of the final outcome. In regards to KG’s surgery, we are talking about a certain fact. The team knows whether the surgery involved stapling KG’s tendon to something (not his kneecap, regardless of what Bill Simmons tweeted), and they know Bill Simmons and Will Carroll are questioning their public account of the surgery.
In issues of black-or-white certainty, teams do owe us honesty. Teams in the NFL violate this rule all the time, and fans rightfully take issue with it. Teams list players as “probable” when they know said player will play, they list them as questionable when they won’t suit up, and they sometimes fail to list someone at all even when that player is in fact injured. (Exhibit A: Brett Favre and the New York Jets).
Fans and the media hate this type of deception with good reason. If it emerges that the Celtics—or any team—fail to accurately disclose the true nature of an injury or an operation, they deserve our criticism. (And please note again that I’m not accusing them of this in the case of Garnett’s knee surgery. As it stands, we have two fairly prominent folks casting doubt on the team’s accounts but no proof that those folks are right. The Celtics have no duty to address Simmons and Carroll if Simmons and Carroll are wrong).
But when things are less black and white, the team has the right to think of itself and its success before its fans.