A Coach's Dismay Keeps the Doctor Away

Will RG3 play in the preseason? Should he? It's a dilemma that might not have mattered had the QB and his coach relied on the opinion of the man paid to know best

Andrew Brandt
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Having grown up a diehard Washington fan in DC, I am well aware of the galvanizing effect the team has always had. Washingtonians don’t agree on much, but they love their football team.

Now there is a player that singularly ratchets up that popularity and impact on the region. Robert Griffin III, known simply as RG3, has become the face of the franchise, with scintillating play on the field and a refreshing presence off it. All was bliss in the nation’s capitol during Griffin’s spectacular rookie season. Until, that is, a serious knee injury that could have been avoided knocked the region from cloud nine.

Griffin sprained his LCL ligament in a late-season game against the Ravens and sat out one game, returning to lead the team into the playoffs on a clearly weakened leg. In the playoff game, a wild-card round contest against the Seahawks on a perilous turf at FedEx Field, Griffin aggravated the previous knee injury, yet was allowed to continue to play in a compromised state. He didn’t come out, and he tore his ACL.

Griffin has now declared himself healthy enough to return by the opening game. But not just that, he wants to play in the preseason. Mike Shanahan wisely will not allow that, though he seems to acquiesce about Griffin playing opening night. But it might not be his call, anyway; owner Dan Snyder told ESPN that team doctor James Andrews would make that decision. If true, that’s huge progress for the team.

The issue of when Griffin returns shines the spotlight on, to me, the biggest question about the team after Griffin’s return: has the return-to-play protocol for Griffin been resolved to remove Griffin and Shanahan from decision-making, deferring to Dr. Andrews to make those calls?

“Scared the hell out of me”

Seven months after the ACL injury, the narrative about Griffin’s returning to play is still puzzling. Let’s look at the three parties involved.

Griffin wanted to keep playing, saying, “There was no way I was coming out of that game.” Of course Griffin wanted to play; that is what players do. He’s not thinking about long-term damage to his knee; he’s thinking about the next play, the next series.

Shanahan relied on Griffin’s assurances, saying, “That was enough for me.” He was a coach in the heat of a playoff game; like Griffin he was not thinking about the long-term.

Dr. Andrews, the person who should have made the decision, was removed from the equation. In a similar situation earlier against the Ravens, Andrews said “Coach Shanahan looks at me like, ‘Is he OK?’ and I give him the ‘Hi’ sign as in, ‘He’s running around, so I guess he’s OK.’ But I didn’t get to check him out until after the game. Scared the hell out of me.” Hmm.

As with the Ravens game, it appears that the immediate interests of the player and coach were prioritized over deferring to Andrews’ expertise.

Empowering the doctor

Robert Griffin III has been relegated to light work so far in training camp.
Robert Griffin III has been relegated to light work so far in training camp. (Steve Helber/AP)

In 25 years of being around professional athletes, I have learned that the biggest medical risks to players are players themselves. It is up to others, especially the team’s medical staff, to protect players from themselves. In order to do so, the doctor must be empowered—independent from the coach’s immediate needs and the player’s desires.

Andrews, a doctor with as flush a resume as any in sports medicine, was powerless on Griffin at the most crucial time. Were Andrews given final authority that day, Griffin likely would have not gone back in the game and suffered serious injury, as Andrews’ cryptic comments suggest.

Cutler crucified for right call

Jay Cutler, after suffering what turned out to be a Grade II MCL tear against the Packers in the NFC Championship Game in 2011, was removed from the game and shown on the sidelines with what appeared to be a benign injury. Cutler was torched on social media for not “toughing it out” in the NFC Championship.

Yet in Cutler’s case, the Bears simply had an empowered doctor. As Bears’ coach Lovie Smith described very simply in the post-game news conference: Cutler didn’t take himself out of the game, the doctor said he couldn’t go, so he was done. End of story.

Cutler was roasted for having a team doctor protect his long-term interests; Griffin was hailed for overruling the team doctor and putting himself at greater risk. The bottom line is this: the decision of whether Griffin or Cutler or any player should continue to play has to be taken out of the player’s hands. It was with Cutler, it wasn’t with Griffin.

Isn’t this where we have finally come to in the NFL regarding concussions? Why should it not be the same for orthopedic injuries? Sure, we all want to watch the star players play, but a team doctor has to make these decisions free from influence with a player’s long-term interest in mind. Otherwise, why is he even there?

In 2012 alone, Griffin returned a week after a concussion, two weeks after a significant knee injury, and a few plays after aggravating that same knee. He is now set to return eight months after a torn ACL, a decision that, as Snyder has suggested, is rightly being made by Dr. Andrews, not Griffin or Shanahan.

Beyond the decision for Griffin’s return, we hope all further return-to-play decisions—no matter the heat of the moment and the assurances of Griffin—are made by an empowered doctor, not an eager player or coach.

And now, your questions …

Dr. Andrews seems to be everywhere. What does Washington think of that?

Andrews has considerable influence. There are a few NFL team doctors who did their fellowships with him in Birmingham. He has performed surgeries on a who’s who of professional athletes, including Drew Brees, Adrian Peterson and now Griffin. He is the “go-to” doctor for second opinions and consultations, as top NFL agents want to bring their client to “the best” in the business.  And, as a final aside, Andrews is a medical consultant to both Auburn and Alabama.

Washington is obviously comfortable with his multiple duties and, like the agents, Snyder wanted the most well-known doctor in the business tending to his players.

How do teams feel about players getting second opinions?

It is the players’ collectively bargained right and most teams accept it as part of the business. The bigger issue, in my opinion, is a growing mistrust or distrust of team doctors by players, something I have noticed especially in recent years. I continue to hear of stories of players not trusting team doctors to look out for their best interests. This is something to watch.

With veteran kickers Rian Lindell and Dan Carpenter both released in the past week, are teams going with young kickers to save money?

Ask Away

Got a question for Andrew Brandt? Hit him up on Twitter and he might answer it in a future mailbag.

That is part of it. Teams are seeing equal or perhaps even better performance by the younger (and cheaper) player and thus moving on from the older, more established kicker. With the recent success of young kickers such as Justin Tucker in Baltimore, Greg Zuerlein in St. Louis and Alex Henery in Philadelphia, more teams are wading in with unproven kickers, and saving money in the process.

Why was Von Miller suspended six games and what will he lose?

The details of a potential suspension under the NFL Policy for Substance Abuse are kept highly confidential, and we may never know the full story of his transgression. His statement read in part: “Although my suspension doesn’t result from a positive test, there is no excuse for my violations of the rules.”

Without a positive test, I would sense—and I admit to speculating here—that there was a “diluted sample,” which would set off discussions of Miller trying to mask a positive reading of his sample, as well as testimony from the collector regarding irregularities in the collection process with Miller. Last season, D.J. Williams was suspended six games (per the Policy on Anabolics) for providing a nonhuman sample, but failed to persuade the NFL to reduce the penalty on appeal.

Miller will forfeit six games of his $2.28 million salary, or approximately $806,000. In addition, the Broncos are entitled to recover a prorated portion of 6/17th one of the four seasons of his $13.77 million signing bonus—for a forfeiture of $1.215 million—as per their right under the CBA. Thus, Miller’s transgression may cost him more than $2 million.

The Broncos are probably now wishing they had received that fax back in March confirming the renegotiated contract of Elvis Dumervil and didn’t have to release him.

More from The MMQB

I hope he's in Redskins garb Sunday.  Just great to watch play.


Brandt says that Dr. Andrews was "powerless". But the doctor's testimony is: “Coach Shanahan looks at me like, ‘Is he OK?’ and I give him the ‘Hi’ sign as in, ‘He’s running around, so I guess he’s OK.’ But I didn’t get to check him out until after the game. Scared the hell out of me.”

That does not  sound like the doctor was powerless. The doctor gave the "Hi" sign when asked for his opinion. He should have said that he could not give an opinion without examining his patient.  How was Shanahan to know that the Hi sign meant "I guess so. But I don't really know. I am scared to let him play."?

It seems from the doctor's own testimony that Shanahan would have pulled RGIII if the doctor had told him to.

neumanco1 like.author.displayName 1 Like

Kudos for not using the racial slur in the article about the Washington football team!

eddie767 like.author.displayName 1 Like

@neumanco1 What,REDSKINS is the team name. What do call the teams in K.C(Chiefs),NBA(Warriors),and MLB(Indians)? I'm sorry,but the elders of the indian tribes had no problems with these names when asked yrs ago,so if your culture says respect your elders and their choices are you really following your culture? No!! So this the name Washington Redskins.


@eddie767 @neumanco1   I represented the White Mountain Apache Tribe (AZ) and did some work with the National Indian Gaming Associate...and belieive me, they take it be derogatory, if not insulting.  As for the other names, they are mild and somewhat positive, though the grinning big toothed Cleveland logo is horrible.


@neumanco1 @eddie767      I represent a bevy of Redskins fans  that don't take the teams name as being derogatory.. Had a big court case when jack Kent Cooke was owner that dragged through the courts for eight years .Redskins  WON  in court ...That should be  the end of it but too  many people never let anything die ....Will this Redskin  name  thing have to go to the   Supreme Court to be settled .....Chill out, will ya ....Cleveland Indians ? .. I was never offended by that name  either ...  


"Wheel Chair Man" (Griffin) won't be having a long career if he can't learn to protect himself.


Wheel Chair Man (Griffin) will not be having a long career if he can't learn to protect himself.


I agree with the major premiss of the article, but I doubt that the doctors have the time and facilities in many cases to make the best decision during a game

WHO*IS*ESPN like.author.displayName 1 Like

But yet he continues to throw the team under the bus for his own popularity.  Just few weeks ago he said he'd play but then says he'll follow coaches orders.  This guy is the biggest circus, the most self centered *&^%, over the Jets and Cam, in the NFL.  And we thought lebron fit that bill for most selfish, egotistical person in sports.


@WHO*IS*ESPNIn my latest column "Ten Things I Think" (which I can't get Peter to publish! lol) #4 says... "I think RG3 needs to study more film.  Specifically, he needs to look at how Brady and Manning handle their comments to the media". If RG3 doesn't put a stop to his free flow of thoughts to the media, and instead learn to give vanilla answers, he is not going to lead his team to greatness.  I also think that we better be prepared for more QB's like him.  The last 20 years has seen a rise in the importance of the QB relative to the rest of the team (a direct result of the rule changes that make passing the most important part of the game... anyone remember "running the ball and defense win championships"?).  That rise in importance means that a QB superstar can challenge his coach publicly and get away with it, just like in the NBA.  Yuck.

Bucs*Life like.author.displayName 1 Like

@WHO*IS*ESPN I'm curious...where exactly are you getting the character reference for RG3?  You sound like a petulant child, you're probably a Cowboy fan.  I'm not even a Redskins (anyone who continues the racial slur talk needs to pull their head out of their rear) fan.  The guy is all class, his popularity only ELEVATES the team you idiot.


@Bucs*Life @WHO*IS*ESPN  Here we go again, you god damn racist knuckle head. If I told you I had a coke, you would call me a racist. You socialist Obamanites are a royal pain....Zero racisism in the original opst...STFU moron......


@Bucs*Life @WHO*IS*ESPN So WHERE is the racial slur in my comment? Another race baiter prick like you who can't understand rg3 thinks, says, and tweets it is all about HIM.  And NO, I'm not a Cowboy fan. So fk off 


@WHO*IS*ESPN @Bucs*Life Learn to read sport.  I said ANYONE not you.  It was a blanket statement since there were other comments here about not using it.  Clearly you don't understand context, it's no wonder you misread RG3's tweets and thoughts. For someone who evidently doesn't like the guy, you sure try to prove your moronic comments by only giving evidence which would suggest you follow him.  Might want to go see a shrink.  

How exactly am I a "race baiter?"  How exactly is everything RG3 does for himself? Don't make the statement if you can't back it up with specifics.  People like you give fans a bad name.

aliasforme46 like.author.displayName like.author.displayName 2 Like

If RG3 has proven anything in his short time with the Redskins, it's that he's a terrible judge of his own fitness. The Redskins should allow their team doctor to weigh in on decisions about whether he, or any other player, is fit to be on the field. I'm not usually a fan of Shanahan, but he's the Redskins' coach, and Griffin (and the other Redskins players) should shut up about Shanahan's pre-season decisions. Also, the knee-jerk PC-ism about not saying the Redskins' name is boring.

AndrewJHamm like.author.displayName 1 Like

Couldn't help but notice that you're following the Rick "Doc" Walker method of omitting Washington's team name. Good man.

adamnicholls183 like.author.displayName like.author.displayName like.author.displayName 3 Like

@AndrewJHamm He might not say it but it is still in the tag line.

Hail to the Redskins!

Hail Victory!

Braves on the Warpath!

Fight for old D.C.!

Run or pass and score -- we want a lot more!

Beat 'em, Swamp 'em,

Touchdown! -- Let the points soar!

Fight on, fight on 'Til you have won

Sons of Wash-ing-ton. Rah!, Rah!, Rah!

Hail to the Redskins!

Hail Victory!

Braves on the Warpath!

Fight for old D.C.!

I am a Packers fan but love hearing that song.