(KCBS) – Like many football fans, I was looking forward to the last of the four first-weekend NFL playoff games. That matchup between the fast-improving Seattle Seahawks and the Robert Griffin III-led Washington Redskins looked pretty juicy.
And then it turned into a slow-motion horror flick. One of the most exciting and captivating players to arrive in the NFL in years could barely move. RGIII played most of the game as a one-legged shadow of himself. It finally came to an agonizing end when his right knee collapsed for the second time in the game. This time, he didn’t get up.
By then, Seattle was poised to win a game that began with two quick Redskins touchdowns and had the feeling of a rout in the making…until Griffin went down.
After that first-quarter injury, RGIII was painful to watch. He was limping badly and couldn’t throw with any accuracy. In short, he was an injured athlete.
But wait: Griffin says he was not injured. “Hurt”, maybe, but not injured. Ordinary people may wonder, “what’s the difference?”. Welcome to the weird world of the NFL. You’re supposed to play hurt, or as the admirably mature and eloquent Griffin put it after the game, “be a man”. Injured is what you are when you can’t play, and it had damned well be pretty serious.
You didn’t have to be on the sidelines at FedEx Field to see that Griffin was less than himself after the first-quarter injury (he went down on the right sideline, untouched, when his knee collapsed while he threw a pass). Of course, it turns out that even if you were on the Redskins sideline, you’d get it wrong: when Griffin originally hurt his knee a month ago, coach Mike Shanahan thought noted orthopedist James Andrews had cleared Griffin to return to the game. Turns out he hadn’t.
I blame Shanahan for sending Griffin back out there against the Seahawks. He’s the head coach, it’s his job to make that call, and I was stunned to see a veteran coach allow an obviously-impaired athlete continue to play. At some point, a boxing manager throws in the towel to protect his athlete. Shanahan should have done the same.
But let’s not lay all the blame at his feet. The NFL’s (indeed, football’s) warrior culture is at the root of this. What if “be a man” was re-defined as, “be smart and do the best thing for your team and your future”? What if “tough” was expanded to include “wise”? Griffin is surely an intelligent and engaging young man, but he’s a part of the problem too: he was the one telling Shanahan he was ready to play.
It’s not going to happen overnight. It will require some soul-searching on the parts of many, from players to coaches to doctors to owners. It will require a re-calibration of the balance between short-term desires and long-term player health and safety, and it will force us all to reconsider our own role in this, since we are the consumers of this spectacle known as pro football.
(Copyright 2012 by CBS San Francisco. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)