Silence Is Golden: Stop The Endless RGIII Injury Chatter
By Ronald Guy
Welcome back, courtesy of author J.R. Moehringer’s recent piece on Robert Griffin III in ESPN The Magazine, to the most (in)famous ACL rehabilitation in the history of sports. Where were we with this never-ending scab-picking exercise?
The tragedy that presumably climaxed with the collapse of the hero’s (RGIII) right knee ended — or rather began — four months ago. The awkward post-game press conference during which the ailing quarterback and his primary keeper, Washington Redskins head coach Mike Shanahan, tried to explain how they wrecked “The Franchise” are far in the sporting world’s past.
RGIII, a.k.a. Humpty Dumpty, opted for modern orthopedic medicine instead of “all the king’s horses and all the king’s men”, and got his knee reassembled again. The surgeon, Dr. James Andrews, in an “I love me some me” moment (as Terrell Owens would say), declared his handiwork a resounding success and later described his star patient as “superhuman.” Hmmm…scratch “Humpty Dumpty”, make that Captain America. The quarterback, in cahoots with his apparel sponsor and a bold advertisement campaign, has very publicly declared himself as “all-in” for Week 1. And Shanahan threw a bit more kindling on the raging rehab fire by suggesting that RGIII’s work ethic will set a record as ACL comebacks go. Eat your heart out Adrian Peterson!
Fortunately, we’re beyond all this ridiculous and unprecedented commentary on a player attempting to return from serious injury. We’re looking through the windshield and into the future. The rear-view mirror has been ripped out and slung onto the comeback highway.
Now, with training camp less than three months away, it’s just about the player and medical team quietly and resolutely going about the arduous rehab process and rescuing the 2013 NFL season from the death jaws of the injury that effectively ended the prior one. Or are we — the player, the franchise, the media and the fans — beyond the carnival-like injury post-mortem and on to prepping for 2013 and the prudent redeployment of RGIII? Well, apparently not: ESPN The Magazine’s feature proves it.
One could forgive, even understand, fans of the burgundy and gold continuing the obsessive forensic analysis on the causal factors necessitating RGIII’s surgery and rehab. That’s how fans work: stuff like this sits and ferments in the pit of their stomachs. It would be difficult for the media to let it go too. RGIII’s good for business, after all, and this story is saturated with uncertainties. Its outcome will, quite literally, swing the fortunes of an NFL franchise.
Mostly, though, this story has been kept alive for the fans and grateful media by the willful and, presumably, pre-meditated leak of confounding commentary from the quarterback’s medical and professional handlers and passive-aggressive statements by RGIII himself. Every time the wound on RGIII’s knee and across the Washington Redskins’ franchise threatens to heal, those who should be most interested in moving on pick the scab and allow a bit more blood to flow. At this point, and as only this story could, the post-injury debauchery is threatening to become more bizarre and irritating than the confluence of idiocy that led to RGIII’s breakdown in the first place.
So let’s cut through all the nonsense and just say what Dr. Andrews, Mike Shanahan, RGIII and the organization won’t — or at least haven’t to date. They are angry at one another — all of them. Andrews is likely upset that his impeccable reputation was even slightly sullied by his association with the ‘Skins, the exam or no-exam fiasco after RGIII’s initial injury in the game against Baltimore, the communication breakdown with Shanahan and RGIII’s failure to be honest with him. Shanahan, too, is apparently frustrated that his quarterback wasn’t forthright with the extent of his pain and the obvious lack of in-game medical protocol. And RGIII, having been reminded of his pesky physical limitations and having watched several of his peers ink nine-figure contracts this offseason, finally understands the possible consequences of his injury, and is upset that someone, anyone, in the ‘Skins chain of command didn’t protect him from himself.
Every bit of that is perfectly fine. Opinions are entitlements and all are reasonable. The calendar reads May, though; the injury happened in early January. The fact that this topic is still lingering on the front pages of major sports magazines speaks to a fracture between the parties involved. What this situation desperately needs is for the victim (RGIII) and the stakeholders to nail the lid to Pandora’s Box shut, learn from the mistake and get on with making things right.
Consider the dichotomy with recent comparative situations. Minnesota’s decision to play Adrian Peterson in the meaningless Week 16 game near the end of the 2011 season where he shredded his knee could have been become an on-going national story and an offseason wart. Instead, the flames of controversy were quickly extinguished and all involved focused on his comeback.
That worked out pretty well, don’t you think?
And how about the Chicago Bulls’ handling of Derrick Rose’s return from ACL reconstruction? By all accounts he’s been medically cleared to play, but hasn’t yet overcome the mental hurdle. With the Bulls entering a second-round playoff showdown with the Heat, it would be easy for the organization to use the media to “encourage” Rose to make peace with his mind and return to the court. To their credit, they haven’t. Rose, at age 24, is the best chance the Bulls have of competing with the Heat and winning a championship in the coming years. Their handling of Rose’s situation proves they get it and, more importantly, creates no daylight between the positions of player and franchise.
So what will it take for RGIII and the Redskins to truly move on? What the quarterback wants and deserves: an acknowledgement of fault and an acceptance of responsibility from Shanahan. Reading between the lines of the aforementioned glowing post-surgery optimism of doctor and coach, one senses guilt. Both coach and team doctor flirted with disaster for weeks and, with the worst case scenario realized, are now digesting the gravity of their error and impact it may have on a tremendous player and young man’s career.
Ultimately, though — and renowned surgeon aside — this situation is Shanahan’s to own. Shanahan carries the title of Executive Vice President and head coach. Shanahan has full control of personnel. Shanahan has nearly three decades worth of NFL coaching experience. So it was Shanahan’s responsibility during that fateful playoff game against Seattle to absorb data from the team doctor, the player and his own eyes, and make a decision in the best interest of the franchise. He wavered, pacified the desires of his ultra-competitive quarterback and made a terrible mistake.
Now Shanahan’s professional reputation and any thoughts of a Hall of Fame ending to his coaching career are predicated on RGIII getting back on the field and dominating for years to come. He would be wise to accelerate the healing process — both physical and psychological — by staring into a camera and admitting he, and he alone, screwed up. It’s not that simple, of course, but as Spider-man discovered, with great power comes great responsibility. Shanahan certainly possess the former; it’s about time he acknowledged the latter. May is not January, but late is better than never. Maybe then this situation will finally find the gag order it so desperately needs.