The problem, Kerlan says, is not the owner and front office. "It's when the player wants to play and we don't think he should," he says. "That's where we run into trouble." There is, for instance, the football player who wants another knee operation, even though he is cautioned that as a result he may have arthritis in years to come. "He says, 'Look, it's my knee. I have a whole life to live, I've got a family to support, I want to do this. It's the only thing I know how to do. I'm not an auditor, I'm not an attorney. I'm going to have to cash in right now because my whole future's on the line, my whole security. Now please, do anything you can. I want to play!' That's where our problem is."
If a player behaves otherwise, he is labeled a malingerer. The burden is always on him. It was on Walton last year. Wracked by conflict and doubt, but remembering how he'd been called a "faker" and an "idiot" during his problem-plagued early career, he agreed to the shot of Xylocaine.
"I think the point is that players themselves really have to have the courage to stand up and say, 'Hey, I'm injured,' " Walton says. "A year ago I didn't have that courage to say no. Fortunately, now I have that courage."