By Ken Reed

It’s been well over a week since the Washington Redskins lost to the Seattle Seahawks in a game most notable for the controversy surrounding Redskins’ quarterback Robert Griffin III regarding whether or not he should’ve continued playing after his right knee had been clearly damaged early in the game. The buzz continues this week in terms of what was the right thing to do and who’s ultimately responsible for RG III needing to undergo major knee surgery after the game.

The consensus is that he shouldn’t have remained in the game. The blame for why he did has been spread around to Griffin himself, his head coach Mike Shanahan, the Redskins’ training and medical staff, and even team owner Dan Snyder. In a blog post, Sam Simon seems to blame RG III for his ego and Shanahan for his poor leadership. All of those targeted share some blame but the primary culprit in this situation is the macho football culture that demands that a true football player must always play hurt.

Football players and coaches are indoctrinated early on in the “tough guys must play hurt for the good of the team” mindset. If one doesn’t follow this axiom — even in youth football — the risk of of being ostracized is real. Ask Jay Cutler, the Chicago Bears quarterback who was ripped from all angles last year for not “gutting it up” and playing hurt, about the repercussions of not following the unwritten “play hurt” rule.

RG III wanted to stay in and Mike Shanahan allowed him to stay in. The result is RG III might miss the start of next season. Potentially, the rookie QB may never be the same because of the decision he and Shanahan made; a decision that had its roots back when the 9-year old versions of RG III and Shanahan first took the football field and heard a coach yell at them, “Get up you sissy! Do you want to be a football player or not?”

Marc Tracy captured the absurdity of football’s macho man culture in his recent New Republic piece, “The NFL Playoffs Offer Little Reward for All Their Risk“:

“‘When adversity strikes,’ Griffin wrote on Twitter, ‘you respond in one of two ways … You step aside and give in, Or you step up and fight.’ He might truly believe this, but it’s worth remembering that by stepping up and fighting last Sunday — because he wanted to, or because he felt pressured to — he can’t step up right now, period: He can’t even stand.”

Football’s macho man culture is archaic, especially given what we now know about the dangers of concussions and brain trauma. “Getting your bell rung,” as old school football coaches were fond of saying, is something we need to take very seriously now. Players refusing to go back in after a head injury, and coaches who refuse to let them back in, are the real football heroes today, not some tough guy who stays in the game limping around on one leg.

Ken Reed, Sports Policy Director, League of Fans


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