Violence in Sports and RG3

For most of the fall, the Washington, D.C. area was subjected to an ongoing freakout over the Nationals’ unwillingness to have star pitcher Stephen Strasburg, fresh from Tommy John surgery, pitch in the playoffs. The team was unexpectedly very good, maybe even World Series good, and yet their coaches were determined to cap Strasburg’s work due to medical advice that was roundly criticized by fans, former players, and the local and national media – there were even calls for firings in management over the decision to “coddle” Strasburg and miss out on the chance at winning.

So it’s interesting, just four months later, to see the opposite effect in place in the case of Robert Griffin III, the ludicrously talented star quarterback, who insisted on being put back in the Redskins home playoff game Sunday even after reinjuring his previously strained knee. While I think Griffin should’ve been shut down at halftime given his limited ability, I imagine what the calls would be had that happened and the game ended with the same result (“A 75% RG3 is better than a 100% backup” would’ve been the likely chorus). Everyone regrets taking out the Lamborghini after it gets scratched.

What’s more interesting to me is the outrage at Griffin for “lying” about his injury and trying to play through pain … something that traditionally has been lauded as emblematic of toughness in sports. I still remember, as an eight-year-old kid, watching some quarterback with the odd name of Favre, weeks removed from having 30 inches of small intestine pulled out of his body after a near-fatal car accident, lead Southern Mississippi to a comeback victory over Alabama. In the age of the concussion, the progressive criticism of sports has taken on a louder tone in recent years, though there are still a few defenders. But there’s a deeper question here: do we think these traits are still laudable? Or should we teach kids that getting injured for a game just isn’t worth it?

Part of this begins with understanding the inherent cussed appeal of violence in sports like football and hockey, which some critics simply don’t. Pro athletes are nearly all risk takers, for whom violence is a challenge to be overcome, a mountain that demands climbing. Patrick Hruby explains it best:  

If you want to understand why Redskins coach Mike Shanahan allowed his quarterback to play for most of a 24-14 NFL wild-card loss to the Seattle Seahawks at FedEx Field, despite an obvious knee injury – and why Griffin demanded as much – it helps to start with a story.

Once upon a time, there was a player at Eastern Illinois, a Division II school as far from the bright lights and big money of professional football as, well, the surface of Mars. One spring day during a practice scrimmage, the player was speared in the ribs, so hard he could barely breathe. He stayed in the game. Went home. Urinated blood. Began throwing up. He went to the emergency room, where doctors couldn’t figure out what was wrong — because his ruptured kidney had been jammed behind his spine. The player passed out from the pain. His heart stopped. He was revived with a defibrillator. A priest administered last rites. Following kidney removal surgery, his football coach told him he would never play again. He was lucky to be alive. He responded by petitioning the school to be allowed to suit up. The player’s name? Mike Shanahan.

This post was adapted from today’s edition of The Transom, Ben Domenech’s indispensable daily news round up and commentary email. Subscribe here

  1. Nick Stuart

    If the kid is passionately determined to play, let him/her.

    But too many kids are pushed into competitive athletics too young and pressed to play hurt too often.

  2. notmarx

    Sport is war, sublimated.  Football and boxing, not so very sublimated. 

  3. Fricosis Guy

    My understanding is that they had modified the pistol some to accommodate RGIII’s limitations; however, I don’t know enough about football to know the specifics.

    Morris had half his carries in the 1st quarter and was fairly effective in the second half.  IMO it was a mistake to go away from the only clear strength the Skins had left…

    PHenry:I thought he was done in more by others’ poor execution and play calling

    Agreed, the problem they faced was that the whole offensive scheme is based upon the option, which does not work if the QB is not a run threat.  It was easy to defend that scheme when they know Morris is going to get the ball 90% of the time.  With RG visibly limping, they would have to install a completely new offense to be effective.  · 1 hour ago

  4. Southern Pessimist

    Hruby’s anecdote explains a lot about Shanahan’s attitude but it also reinforces the basic truth that it is inappropriate to let the athlete’s wishes prevail. There are more than a thousand former NFL players suing the NFL because the league let them play through concussions because they (the players) wanted to play through concussions. Letting RGIII play with a brace on a knee that had been previously reconstructed was beyond foolish.

  5. Jeff Schulte

    RGIII should be lauded.  If it were little league or HS football then no, but I see this through the prism that this is his job and career.  He has a job to do and he shouldered the responsibility and the risks.  I would not decry a decision to pull him, but he certainly shouldn’t be criticized for wanting to stay in.

    I wish him the best in his recovery.

  6. PHenry

    I’m a lifelong ‘Skins fan, and RGIII is the best thing to happen to this team in decades.  That said, sure, I expect a player to always want to play, and I respect a player who plays hurt.  But at some point, you must also have the maturity to know when you don’t have the physical ability to perform, and that your team needs someone in there who can.  Cousins has proven himself, he isn’t some great unknown.  If RG was not able to bench his ego and realize he wasn’t able to contribute, then Shanahan should have taken him aside and explained “You are my franchise QB for the forseeable future, but today you are too injured to continue”. 

    RG should not have played after the second quarter, mid third quarter at most.  He was visibly unable to run, or even walk, and worse, unable to throw accurately all due to the injury.  I was at the game, and it was obvious to me.  But I suspect that Shanahan’s philosophy is that he would rather lose with RG than win with Cousins and cause a QB contorversy.

  7. Fricosis Guy

    A few points:

    • I almost split my sides when I heard some ESPN bloviator say RGIII had to go back out there to “prove to his teammates that he belonged on the field with them.”   After those three quarters, he should be doing checking their sorry [expletives].

    • Easy to second guess, but in real time it was hard to tell until the 4th quarter than RGIII was well and truly cooked.  Per my comment above I thought he was done in more by others’ poor execution and play calling.
    • The field was an embarassment.
    • Nice Shannie story, but a little over the top re: Eastern Illinois considering that Shanahan, Sean Payton, Tony Romo and other NFLers attended.  OK, Romo brings it down a notch.

    Finally, I like watching football, but it is a savage and socialist game.  The constant rule tweaking, the over-specialization, the elaborate manipulation of the schedule to ensure fairness, the rent-seeking…

  8. PHenry

    I thought he was done in more by others’ poor execution and play calling

    Agreed, the problem they faced was that the whole offensive scheme is based upon the option, which does not work if the QB is not a run threat.  It was easy to defend that scheme when they know Morris is going to get the ball 90% of the time.  With RG visibly limping, they would have to install a completely new offense to be effective.