WASHINGTON — So after all the hand-wringing and second-guessing and wince-inducing replays, what the Redskins learned from last season’s debacle that led to tears of the anterior cruciate and lateral collateral ligaments in the very expensive and important right knee of Robert Griffin III – is . . . a favorite expression I can’t use in a family newspaper.
Let’s call it nothing. The Redskins learned nothing.
Not a single doctor on the sideline — and we learned that there was a veritable “Grey’s Anatomy” cast available — has taken responsibility. Not a single assistant coach has wondered whether perhaps he should have said something. Of course, the assistant coach in charge of Griffin — Kyle Shanahan — would have had to speak up to his dad. Even then, what good would it have done? Because Coach Mike Shanahan is clearly not going to take any responsibility for the travesty that was Griffin’s knee injury.
Shanahan, instead, said Wednesday that he wants Griffin to take the responsibility. He should learn to slide, run out of bounds, leap tall linebackers in a single bound. But he should do it himself. After all, he’s a year out of college. Come on, Robert, take some responsibility, dammit!
No one — no one — who watched the Redskins last season didn’t say to himself — or herself — a dozen times: “Get out of bounds!” “Go down!” Because Griffin is a risk-taker. And he’s always — always — going to tell his coach he can play. That doesn’t make him much different than a lot of players. Griffin’s a gamer. That’s one reason he won a Heisman, was a first-round draft pick and won the NFL’s rookie of the year award.
That’s also one reason he’s spending his offseason in the weight room and on a practice field somewhere, flipping tires, drinking Gatorade and muttering under his breath. If anyone can come back from this injury better than ever, it’s Griffin, who has a tremendous work ethic.
But that’s not the point. It’s fine for the Redskins to have The Talk with Griffin — although why they didn’t have it last season, over and over again, is beyond me. Perhaps they did, and he didn’t listen. That should have been a big old red flag to the coaching staff — we have to make decisions for the kid. But there was a gaggle of adults on that sideline, adults with medical degrees, adults who are paid to look at the big picture, who let the kid put himself back on the field.
Own it. Say what you want about Griffin’s reckless disregard for his own safety. But also say this: I share in the blame for what happened. One of the most liberating statements a person can make is: “I was wrong. I’m sorry.” How about: “Knowing what kind of kid Robert is, we should have been more cautious in letting him make decisions about whether or not he was fit to play.” That’s barely skimming the surface of responsibility – and yet it gets there.
But instead, Shanahan went back to his old refrain. “I don’t get a chance to evaluate people on the sideline during a game. I’m watching it, making calls, making substitutions. . . . So what you do is you rely on your doctors and you rely on the player. . . . He earned the right to stay in the game. He earned the right. And that’s why he was in there.”
No one’s arguing that Griffin showed tremendous guts that day, that he didn’t “earn the right” to be in there. But that said — so what? That’s a reason to play him? What, is he “Rudy” all of a sudden?
But let’s go with Shanahan’s thought. He doesn’t have time to turn the very important job of substitutions over to his offensive coordinator, his defensive coordinator and his special teams coach for a few minutes? Because substitutions are more important than the right leg of the most important player to join this team in at least in the 20 years I’ve lived here. No one’s asking Shanahan to run the X-ray machine. But okay, let’s just say we accept that premise.
If not one of those doctors even raised the knee injury as an issue, then here’s what I’d do: Fire every one of them, including the great and powerful orthopaedist James Andrews. What you need in those jobs is not yes-men, team-paid parrots who can be trained to say, “Put him in! Put him in!” on command.
Letting Griffin play that final series was akin to assault by his own team. I said it at the time and I still believe it: Shanahan should have sat him, even over Griffin’s objections. What, is Griffin going to unfriend him on Facebook?
Yes, Griffin should learn from that experience. No argument there. But Shanahan should learn, too. We don’t know yet if Griffin, now older and wiser at 23, learned his lesson; we won’t know until we see him play. But nearly two months later, it’s clear Shanahan still hasn’t. And probably never will.