With Commissioner Roger Goodell at the helm, the National Football League has made a concerted effort to protect players from concussions and other debilitating injuries. Thus there have been rule changes that penalize head-first hits. And this year, the NFL suspended several New Orleans Saints players and coaches -- including the head coach, Sean Payton -- for instituting a pay-for-performance or “bounty” system, which allegedly encouraged rule-breaking.
I think the punishment of the Saints was wrong and inappropriate. If a coach or player violates the rules of the game, then of course punish that coach or player. But the bounty system encouraged hard-fought football within the rules of the game; it did not contribute to rule-breaking per se.
In any case, if the NFL is serious about protecting its players, then it will immediately suspend Washington Redskins coach Mike Shanahan for his gross dereliction of (coaching) duty in Sunday’s NFC wildcard game against the Seattle Seahawks.
Shanahan played a seriously and manifestly injured 22-year-old rookie quarterback, Robert Griffin III, long after it had become obvious to everyone that Griffin was completely ineffective and at risk of suffering a season- or career-ending injury. In so doing, Shanahan showed reckless disregard for the health and well-being of his star quarterback. If that doesn’t warrant a suspension, then I’m not sure what does.
Griffin suffered a sprained lateral collateral ligament Dec. 9 against the Baltimore Ravens. He missed a game the following week against the Cleveland Browns, but then came back to play the final two regular season games and Sunday’s wildcard playoff game.
But Griffin never fully healed; and he aggravated his injury in Sunday’s game. Indeed, according to the Washington Post, an MRI exam of Griffin’s right knee suggests that he “has suffered partial tears of his anterior cruciate and lateral collateral ligaments [ACL], according to several people with knowledge of the test results.”
This is a big deal, especially for a quarterback (such as Griffin) whose stunning success is dependent in large part upon his explosive speed.
Griffin suffered a torn ACL in the same knee in 2009, while in college, the Post reports. And now he faces the prospect of “exploratory surgery to determine the extent of the damage and whether the injuries are new.”
The bottom line: Griffin may well miss some of the 2013 season because of his aggravated injuries. But even if Griffin returns to play every game next year, will he be the same phenomenal athlete that he was previously? Will he possess the same superior physical gifts that he had prior to getting injured?
Maybe, but maybe not. In any case, why risk it? Griffin has (or at least had) a long career ahead of him. Why risk that career for a quarter or two of futile and losing football?
What should Shanahan have done? Simple: take Griffin out of the game at half-time, when it became obvious to all that the 22-year-old rookie could no longer compete effectively and was a bad injury waiting to happen.
Shanahan and his apologists say he couldn’t have done that because Griffin wanted to play badly and had earned the benefit of the doubt. Moreover, they argue, the code of professional football demands that players play hurt.
Nonsense. Griffin’s burning desire to play is admirable; and that, no doubt, helps make him the great player that he is. But that’s also why football has checks and balances in the form of a head coach: to protect players from themselves. To say no when a player doesn’t want to say no, but wisdom demands that he stand down.
Let’s be clear: Shanahan is the head coach of the Washington Redskins. As such, he is the captain of the ship, the commander of his squad. What he says goes, period. That’s just how it is in football, and everyone who’s ever played the game knows it.
Indeed, it’s an ironclad rule of the sport taught to eight-year-old boys, high-school students, and college athletes: Coach decides; it’s his team; he knows what’s best. And he decides who plays -- and who doesn’t.
By refusing to exercise his authority when it was most needed -- at a crucial juncture in a playoff game involving his franchise quarterback, 22-year-old rookie Robert Griffin III -- Shanahan disgraced himself. And he failed his team, his quarterback, his players, the Redskins organization, and the National Football League.
It’s important that the NFL make an example of Shanahan and suspend him for at least several games. Otherwise, his bad and irresponsible coaching decisions will be emulated and repeated, and more players will needlessly be put at risk.
Suspending Shanahan will help ensure that head coaches take their responsibilities (to the game) seriously; it will help ensure that players get the protection that they need; and it will help ensure that fans are able to see great players, such as Robert Griffin III, play for many years to come.
Mike Shanahan is a great coach, but he made a very bad decision for which he must be held accountable. The needs of the league and the needs of the players are paramount.
Roger Goodell, do the right thing: suspend Mike Shanahan -- now.
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