The past week has been a whirlwind tour of the state of Texas for Washington Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III. He has hopscotched throughout the state like a celebrity on tour, showing no ill effects of a "new" knee.
While saying he will be ready for his 2013 return, who has the final say?
His hometown of Copperas Cove named a street in his honor. He was courtside at Baylor University basketball games. And he appeared in front of the Texas Legislature, which gathered, in part, to discuss honoring his career as a Texas resident and uber-athlete.
Is there any doubt regarding his mobility and ability to get around?
Less than one month after surgery to reconstruct (emphasizing the degree of surgery) his knee, he climbed stairs as he walked to the podium to receive the NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year.
Two weeks later, following the release of the new Adidas commercial with the tag line "All In For Week 1," RG3 felt compelled to send a message via Twitter: "Feel like I need to say this..Although my goal is to start Week 1, that doesn't mean I will compromise my career to do so."
Two months after reconstructive knee surgery to repair ligaments in his right knee, RG3 told reporters (via The Washington Times) gathered at the Texas State Capitol in Austin that his knee is "doing good" and "he will be ready to play" in 2013.
While his optimism is certainly welcome news for Redskin fans, who will have the final say as to when RG3 returns to playing action?
Criticism of the franchise flurried after the Redskins decided to allow Griffin to return to play following his first NFL knee injury in Week 14 against the Baltimore Ravens. After a significant hit to the knee, Griffin rested for a single play then limped back onto the field, eventually conceding after a few more plays that his injury was more serious than he initially thought.
The Redskins classified his injury as a mild sprain, yet Griffin did not dress for the next game and returned to the starting lineup wearing a knee brace the following week.
Despite the Redskins winning the final two games after his return, RG3 was obviously limited or restricted while wearing the brace, amassing 67 rushing yards, compared to the 57 yards per game he averaged in his previous 13 starts.
The most serious injury, the one which culminated in his reconstructive surgery, occurred in the NFC Wild Card game against the Seattle Seahawks. Criticism of coach Mike Shanahan was harsh, to put it mildly.
Many fans, sportswriters and commentators placed some of the blame for the final injury to RG3's knee on Shanahan for rushing his return at the end of the regular season in an attempt to make the playoffs.
Noted orthopedic surgeon and Redskins team physician Dr. James Andrews drew some criticism for accelerating the progress of RG3 following an interview February 22 with the NFL Network.
In the interview, Dr. Andrews said the 2011 Heisman trophy winner was, "way ahead of schedule so far. We don't have to do much but try to hold him back."
The question regarding a player's return following an injury can be disputed among fans—but does the coach choose the conclusions and advice of the team doctor over the player and that player's confidence in his ability to perform without risking further injury?
It reminded me of a comment coach Shanahan made during a press conference in November 2012 when he addressed questions about the return of Redskins wide receiver Pierre Garcon. Garcon missed nearly half of the 2012 regular season with an injury to his foot and toe. When asked about his pending return, Shanahan was honest and blunt in his reply:
"I'm glad that he wants to go, glad he's trying to go." Coach Shanahan added, "It's nice to see him out there fighting." He also cautioned that "players aren't entirely honest how much they are hurting some times."
While ultimately we do not know the discussions behind closed doors and cameras, who does have the final say in a player's return to active duty?
Musician John Fogerty's 1985 song "Centerfield"—a staple at MLB baseball games between innings—has lyrics which include, "Put me in coach. I'm ready to play."
Players such as RG3 have something to prove and do not want to be standing on the sidelines when the game is on the line. It is admirable for players such as Griffin to want to play, but should they? The risk-to-reward ratio means little to a young player who has an air of invincibility about him.
To err on the side of caution, which the Redskins appeared to do in the decision not to play RG3 in Week 15, proved to have not been a long enough period of time.
Despite all assertions to the contrary, if a star quarterback such as RG3 says he is "ready" and "feels good," a team doctor or coach should think long term and not seek immediate results.
While I agree a nearly eight-month absence from NFL-game contact seems long enough, the detractors and skeptics will always say, as they did following the playoff loss to Seattle, they should have waited longer for RG3's injured knee to heal properly and completely.
Those moments of RG3 writhing in pain from his knee injuries or having been left dazed from a vicious hit earlier in the season are far too recent glimpses of a potential career-ending injury.
While I remain cautiously optimistic in Griffin's return, I certainly would not want to see a player with so much talent—a player-selected co-captian nonetheless—put it all on the line only to realize too late that he is a defenseless target.
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