Knees And Elbows

Yesterday the Washington Redskin’s gifted young quarterback, Robert Griffin III, underwent surgery on his injured right knee. He already had reconstructive surgery on that knee in 2009 and earlier this season he re-injured the knee and was held out of the next game. But, despite a noticeable limp, he started the following game because it was determined that he could play and he is a talented player and an inspiring leader on a team that has struggled in recent years. Besides, the Redskins wanted to make sure they made the playoffs. And that, as they say, is the “bottom line.”

The Redskins did make the playoffs, of course, and R. G. III (as they call him) started the first playoff game for the Redskins in years. The fans went wild as the ‘Skins started the game with a bang and led by two touchdowns early in the game. Then their opponents, the Seattle Seahawks, started to come back and, surprise, surprise, Griffin caught a cleat in the turf, twisted his knee and went to the ground in pain. The prognosis is not good. Surgeons who examined the knee at the time said they could not “guarantee” a full recovery.

The fact that the Redskins went on to lose the game simply underlines the stupidity of the decision to risk the future of a gifted athlete –not to mention the future of the franchise (as they like to call it). This is a sorry example of short-term thinking which infects this culture like a virus. It permeates virtually every facet of our behavior and I tend to think it comes from a business mentality that puts a premium on profits in the short term and tends to ignore the long term — even if reliable data portend problems down the road — like global warming, for example.

One might think that the example of another professional athlete from Washington, the pitcher Stephen Strasburg, provides a counter-example to short-term thinking. The managers of the Nationals decided last season to hold Strasburg out of the lineup going into the playoffs because he was coming back from Tommy John surgery and they wanted to make sure he didn’t strain his elbow and ruin his future with the team. They had been counting his pitches throughout the season and he had reached his limit.

I applaud this and did so at the time. It struck me as a rare example of concern for an athlete’s future at the risk of losing some baseball games. But the stuff that hit the fan after the decision, outrage from fans who were convinced that without Strasburg pitching the Nationals had no chance to make the World Series, confirms my claim that short-term thinking is the name of the game in the culture at large. The decision to hold out Strasburg was clearly the correct decision, regardless of the outcome of the games — and we need to bear in mind that these are games after all. And the decision to start Robert Griffin III in the football game against Seattle may come back to haunt the Washington Redskins who have placed a lot of hope and money on the young man’s shoulders but who may have let greed cloud their minds. Did I mention that there is a great deal of money involved in winning playoff games?

6 thoughts on “Knees And Elbows

  1. There is a huge personal conflict of interest even at the coaching level in college sports. was pretty shocked to hear that the Alabama football coach gets $5M as his base salary and that winning a play-off berth adds $100K and winning the BCS adds another $200K. With these incentives in play, it might be hard for coaches and administrators to “holdback” whatever talent they have on the sidelines if it means such large sums of money to them personally. That asset may not even be “theirs” next year if the coach is dropped or the athlete is traded, so “spending” the asset can be an easy choice. On the flip side, if this were viewed as a personal investment, like the coach might think of his own stock investment or his own health in physical therapy, I suspect the outcome would often be different.

    • That’s not a bad idea. If the coaches were punished for ruining the lives of their players they might think twice! Thanks, Bruce.


  2. Good post and comments. It is ironic the Nationals did the right thing, as there are numerous examples of baseball teams pitching young arms too much early in their careers that career ending injuries occur. Sports Illustrated did a piece on this in the early 1990’s. Dwight Gooden, Fernando Valenzuela, etc. were done at too young an age. Thanks, BTG

  3. this triggered a memory of when my son was in a high-school basketball playoff game and reinjured his ankle. he, of course, assured me that he was fine. i wanted a doctor to look at it, so to the sports medicine doc we went before the next game. doc said, ‘i’m not going to put you in a cast, but…’

    ah, i was so happy to have listened to that parental caution…the but, was, ‘ but i am going to fit you with this brace, and don’t ever set foot on that gymn floor without it..’

    it’s so sad when one puts the ’cause’ ahead of a player’s health and future. i’m glad i didn’t have to watch when the poor guy reinjured that knee.


      • i had been painting, so had not pondered that; yes, of course they had to replay it, though maybe that will help imprint to others how important it is to put the athlete first and the sport second.

        but you’re right, when it comes down to the money at stake….. the player is just a pawn to many organizations.

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