On Wednesday 22 January, veteran NFL kicker Garrett Hartley tweeted from Tulane University in New Orleans, and said he was excited to say he was signed by an XFL team. In the days after this initial announcement, fans followed Garrett on social media when he revealed he was going to the Seattle Dragons, then when he flew to Seattle, and even when he tried on his white Seattle Dragons uniform pants.
We all remembered Hartley playing for the New Orleans Saints in Super Bowl XLIV in 2010, where he went 3-for-3 with field goals from 46, 44, and 47 yards, to become the first kicker in Super Bowl history to convert three field goals of 40 yards or more.
Once in Seattle, Garrett put on a show for the XFL Dragons, making 19 of 20 field goals, the longest from the 55-yard line. For the Dragons coaches, this confirmed the video they had seen of Hartley working out on the field at Tulane. His leg was still in shape, and he was more than ready to kick for the XFL.
However, there was still the matter of medical clearance. Unfortunately, Hartley was soon told that an XFL physician would not clear him for game play, since he had undergone spinal surgery where one of the original discs in his neck had been replaced by an artificial disc.
Not passing his medical was the last thing on Garrett Hartley’s mind, as he said over the phone from New Orleans on Thursday evening.
“I’ve already been cleared medically through my world-renowned spine surgeon, Dr. Watkins Jr., and as well as cleared through another surgeon at Tulane, through my MRI reports,” Garrett said. “I would never put myself in jeopardy to play a game if it meant I can ultimately suffer lifelong consequences because of it.”
The medical snag was also a surprise to the Seattle Dragons’ coaches that had coaxed Garrett to come to Seattle.
“That is 100% correct,” Garrett confirmed. “From everyone that I spoke to there, everything was mutual and they were happy to have me, I was happy to be there, and I was going to be their guy. No questions asked.”
It was the league’s medical official that put an end to Hartley joining the Dragons.
“I was told that the risk of the unknown from my surgery was why they would not clear me,” Hartley explained. “Since I have an artificial disc in my neck and not a fusion, there isn’t enough evidence for them to medically say that I would be cleared.”
“In the XFL, there’s no waivers to be signed, since there’s not a collective bargaining agreement, and all the decisions go to the XFL, and not the individual teams like it would be in the NFL,” Hartley explained.
What this really means to Hartley is not only is he restricted from playing for the Dragons, he is restricted from playing for any XFL team.
To top that off, there isn’t any way to reverse the decision, because, as Hartley pointed out, the XFL doesn’t have an appeal process in place.
“Unfortunately, they don’t have anything in place set up as far as appeals goes,” Hartley said. Still, he remains optimistic that the decision is not final.
“There are some potential meetings that might take place early next week that will definitely bring me back up in the conversation,” he said.
Not to mention that Hartley feels strongly that his artificial disc should not be considered to be a liability.
“The frustrating thing for me was the fact that I never had any surgeon other than a primary care doctor overlook, or look at me physically in person to see how strong I am.”
“Knowing that the artificial disc is the future of fusions, anyway. I have more mobility, it’s longer lasting. You know, we have professional athletes across the world that have these in, just none of them happen to be a football player. They’re professional soccer players. There is military active personnel with an artificial disc in their cervical neck. Unfortunately, like I said, they wouldn’t give me the green light.”
Hartley confirmed that he never saw any surgeon or orthopedic specialist while he was in Seattle.
“They were going off some assumptions from their own research of the disc,” he said. “I know that they had spoken to my surgeon, which operated on Peyton Manning as well as other high priority athletes that obviously came back to play, even though he had a different procedure than me.”
“Having that reassurance through a top ranked doctor is all the assurance that I need as a player, in the confidence, knowing if he feels it’s safe, that obviously I believe that it will be (safe) for me to be on the field.”
Hartley retains hope that this decision will be overturned and he will be allowed to play football for the XFL.
We can’t disagree. After all, it would be great to see him kick another game winning field goal, such as the one that allowed the Saints to play in Super Bowl XLIV.
You can hear more of the interview with Garrett Hartley in this Sunday’s XFL Xtra Podcast.