Beyond the fact that this involves a question of one of the league's premier players returning to action for what is now a hypothetical 2011 NFL season, this story should make waves due to the fact that Colts owner Jim Irsay seemed to suggest an entirely different, decidedly rosier picture when he was asked about Manning's recovery from surgery:
“It's usually a six-to-eight week recovery period," Irsay said. "I think this is one you can bounce back from quickly. Now is the time to do it, the end of May. He's had things tougher than this before.
“He's such a tough guy, takes care of himself and really, really works hard. I feel good about it. This doesn't affect the way I view (a new contract). This is something that is not going to affect the longevity of his career. This is not something where you have to fuse it, and then there’s an arthritic condition that all of a sudden is felt. It’s not that at all.”
While Irsay didn't explicitly say that Manning was puppies and cupcakes following surgery, he did indicate that he felt good about where Manning was. And while Manning's apparent discomfort falls firmly in Irsay's six-to-eight week projection of recovery time, Archie's views certainly carry a different gravity than Irsay's.
The story here, though, is not necessarily Manning's neck surgery—his second in two offseasons—but rather, the fact that Colts players have essentially barred the Indianapolis (and, by extension, national) media from reporting on anything team-related during the NFL lockout.
As such, readers are only ever going to be primed for he-said-she-said stories. It seems silly to prevent reporters from doing their jobs when a quick question posed to Manning, who, to Osi Umenyiora's chagrin, has been curiously absent from any NFL proceedings, could clarify his post-surgery status.
Instead, we get Irsay telling us one thing, and Archie seemingly indicating another. We all know Manning is notorious for his privacy, something the Indianapolis market readily accommodates. Does he not bring on an entirely unnecessary line of questioning here when shunning the media and allowing for others to speak for him?
In Manning's case, you could even go back to the birth of his twins, Marshall and Mosley. All that was required on Manning's part was a simple statement to the effect of: "I would like to announce that my wife, Ashley, and I have welcomed a baby boy and baby girl, twins, into the world, and appreciate your respect for our family's privacy as we spend some time together as a family."
That's all it would have taken. Seriously. All Manning would have had to say, or heck, even have his agent send to the local media in a press release.
Instead, what happens? Indianapolis Star reporters have to go crawling through Marion County public health records to confirm the birth of the Manning twins.
I suppose I just don't see the point. It's not about Manning making the media do the extra work. It's about Manning making things unnecessarily difficult on himself by being, quite frankly, difficult. It seems, with both the birth of his twins and his recent neck surgery, that Manning has invited a line of questioning that could have been avoided entirely with a simple statement.
And the more mystery that builds behind these rumors, behind the quest to confirm some whispers and dispel others, the more work it is on everyone involved and the worse Manning looks in the process.
I mean, I can't imagine he's exactly thrilled about some of the suggestions floating out there. Serious injuries, surrogates, twins as April Fool's jokes. Suggestions he could have silenced with just a nod of his head to a publicist, who could bang out a press release in less time than it takes Mike Florio to speculate on the severity of Manning's injury or an anonymous blogger to suggest that something is amiss.
Of course, players are quick to contact the media when the end result best serves their individual interests. Indianapolis Star columnist Bob Kravitz probably phrased it best when he said "maybe you've noticed, but when a Colts player needs to promote his summer camp, he can't reach out to the media fast enough."
Silence really seems to be poor form, and more to the point, poor strategy, from NFL players as this lockout drags on. And while there certainly are some athletes that maintain Twitter accounts and engage in constant communication with fans, there are too many prominent figures out there content to leave everyone in the dark and guessing in a time where fans already feel alienated.
I don't see the endgame here.
Most of these guys, like Manning, seem to be actively harming their own reputation or status quo by keeping mum. In a time where players should be fighting to keep fans on their side, some seem to be distancing themselves further. They seem to be inviting speculation, daring the peanut gallery to shower them in boos and, worse, Bush Light.
The solution to keeping fans informed is throwing the media an occasional bone. Do players have to reveal their entire playbook to reporters? Of course not. But a press release here and there, an invitation to film the backup quarterback throwing a pass to the third-string wide receiver for the ten o'clock news and the occasional team-relevant topic for the local sports columnist to hammer out. These things can't hurt. They can only help. And players need all the help they can get right now.
Unfortunately, the reality is that some teams have been trained to view the media as the enemy. And while some players attempt to circumvent that mentality by hosting their own nightly videocasts for fans, far too many NFL players shun the media with no plan of involving fans.
The media should absolutely be a conduit to establish communication between two signs distanced by ongoing litigation, or at the very least, should be allowed to confirm or deny some very basic reports. By cutting off the information supply as some NFL players have done, the media is denied reliable reports to publish and, consequentially, fans are deprived of news and are further distanced from the players they follow.
It all seems silly, honestly, and seems all the more ridiculous for how avoidable it all is. But alas, a 10-second clip for the nightly news is heresy, and a simple statement clarifying a recent report is viewed as cancerous. Teams must work out in secret and keep every utterance locked in their larynx because, as we all know, local beat writers are trained in Taliban torture techniques and can extract game-day strategies from simply asking how much of a sweat the offensive line is breaking.
Manning might not be where he wants to be right now. In terms of his surgery, that's not his fault.
In terms of his position with fans and the media, though, it certainly is.