What you are looking at in the picture above, is not a snapshot of an athlete who has suffered an injury on a field of sport. What you are looking at is not just an unlucky occurrence, the kind of thing that can happen to anyone playing any sport. What you are looking at is a picture of a public crucifixion. Right there before your eyes, and before the eyes of millions on that Sunday night, we watched a young man being destroyed, a martyr being offered up in sacrifice to the gods of greed and glory.
Robert Griffin III, the rookie quarterback of the Washington Redskins, is a very special human being. He is not only a gifted athlete, he possesses something that very few people have. The innate qualities of a leader. His confidence and positive mindset inspired a less than mediocre football team and actually made them great. Team veterans of many years standing never knew they could play as well as they played under Griffin’s leadership. He is a player who gives the infamous 110 percent and it has cost him.
Coach Mike Shanahan and his son Kyle, the offensive coordinator, worked with Griffin to develop a read option offense game plan, that was something the teams they played didn’t know how to handle. The read option puts points on the scoreboard, but it also put Griffin at great risk, because with that kind of strategy, the quarterback always has the option to run with the ball. And Griffin loved to run. But early in the season he got hit hard and suffered a concussion. Later in a game with the Baltimore Ravens he sprained a ligament in his right knee and had to sit out the next game.
When Griffin returned to play, he came back with a cumbersome knee brace that slowed him down considerably. And the Shanahans continued to use the read option offense. But he still kept winning games and got the Skins into the playoffs. RGIIIs philosophy is that quarterbacks are hired to play, injured or not. That’s the unwritten law of the NFL. But on the playoff game with the Seattle Seahawks, it was clear that Griffin, despite two touchdowns with Seattle scoreless, he was not really up to his game. And when he took a spill in the first quarter, he didn’t get up. He tore his helmet off and grimaced in pain. That was Mike Shanahan’s cue to pull him from the game. But he left him in. He said at a press conference that Griffin told him he was okay and he took his word for it.
We’re talking about an idealistic, optimistic 22-year old kid who believes in giving 110 percent and wants to play. What else is he going to say? Shanahan is a veteran coach, who should have known what his eyes were telling him. That Griffin was in pain, he had reinjured the knee. The team doctor, a meat head who wears a ridiculous Redskins pom-pom cap on the field, didn’t step in, as he should have. Griffin wanted to play, he wanted his team to win, and those who should have known better and protected him from himself did nothing. And so he played three more quarters of bone-crushing football, limping, hopping on one foot at time. It made your stomach turn and your spirit sink to watch the rest of the game. When halftime was over and he came out to play the second half, it was hard to believe.
The field that day at Fedex Field was a mess. The Seahawks have filed a complaint with the NFL about the rotten playing conditions of the turf. One of their players was injured as well, when his foot got caught in the damaged surface of the field. Dan Snyder, owner of the Skins, has a multimillion dollar yacht that he cruises around the Potomac River in . Doesn’t he have a little money left over for some grass seed?
Someone needs to hold the perpetrators of this atrocity accountable. Shanahan and Snyder want to line their pockets with the gold earned by the broken ligaments of their franchise quarterback. Maybe the NFL ought to take some of that gold away from them. Or maybe they should just ban Snyder from owning any football teams in the future, and let a new owner fire the Shanahans. But then, when did the NFL ever give a damn about the players?
The word came out tonight that Griffin will undergo surgery on the knee and may not be fit to play the beginning of next season. To quote a line from Sam Peckinpah’s “The Killer Elite,” “Who knows if that knee will ever be anything more than a wet noodle?”
In the meantime, while we wait and hope his knee can be rehabilitated, and he’ll be able to play, we know, even if we don’t want to admit it, he’ll never be the same. And, damn it, neither will we.