The Ethics of Letting RGIII Play

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Somewhat related, Bill Barnwell has a good piece in Grantland looking at RGII's injury from both an ethical and a practical standpoint. He concludes that it was wrong to let RGIII play in the moment for practical reasons (hampered by injury) and wrong when you look at the entirety of the situation. The most damning piece of evidence isn't what happened in the game, but what happened weeks before:


Sunday broke with the news that Dr. James Andrews hadn't cleared Robert Griffin to come back into the Week 14 game against the Ravens after suffering the initial knee injury, despite Mike Shanahan claiming otherwise as part of the justification for pushing RG3 back in for four plays. Shanahan pretended that there was a conversation with Andrews offering his consent for the move when Andrews noted that he had been shielded from evaluating Griffin by the head coach.  

The medical staff -- including Andrews -- evaluated Griffin on Sunday after his injury and said that he was, according to the untrustworthy Shanahan, "fine to play," suggesting that the team had checked with the doctors to "ask them their opinion if we would be hampering his LCL ... or was he in good enough shape to go into the game and play at the level we need for him to win." It seems like an impossible argument to win. Griffin didn't have an MRI during the game or miss time until suffering his second knee injury of the day. He had a gigantic brace on his knee built specifically to support his LCL, so it's not a surprise that the doctors would suggest that LCL wouldn't be hampered. Even if Griffin was healthy enough to step back onto the field, the dramatic dip in his performance should have been enough to tip off a coach who's been around football for his entire life that something was wrong.

From USA Today:

Andrews, however, told USA TODAY Sports on Saturday that he never cleared Griffin to go back into the game, because he never even examined him. 

 "(Griffin) didn't even let us look at him," Andrews said. "He came off the field, walked through the sidelines, circled back through the players and took off back to the field. It wasn't our opinion.

"We didn't even get to touch him or talk to him. Scared the hell out of me." 

Yet when asked by news reporters, Shanahan described a conversation with Andrews this way: 

"He's on the sidelines with Dr. Andrews. He had a chance to look at him and he said he could go back in," Shanahan said Dec. 10. 

"(I said) 'Hey, Dr. Andrews, can Robert go back in?' 

'Yeah, he can go back in.' 

 'Robert, go back in.' 

"That was it," Shanahan said.

I think it's worth recognizing that circumventing medical opinion is an old tradition in football. Barnwell makes the point that Shanahan has been around the game for his entire life. But that is actually the problem. Football is premised on the hazy morality of "playing through pain." And it isn't hazy simply because of what football is, but because of what people are--which is to say very different from each other. 

Even by those standards, it's still dishonorable to conjure medical cover for a questionable decision. In a league where coaches are cycled in and out every two or three years, and players are disposable, the incentive toward conjuring cover is obvious.
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Ta-Nehisi Coates is a national correspondent at The Atlantic, where he writes about culture, politics, and social issues. He is the author of the memoir The Beautiful Struggle.

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