RG3: Exclusive Book Excerpt in This Week’s SI Looks at the Culture of Playing Hurt in the NFL

RGIIIThis week’s SI features an exclusive book excerpt from RG3, by Dave Sheinin (published by arrangement with Blue Rider Press, a member of Penguin Group (USA) LLC.), which dives into the culture of playing hurt in the NFL and why Robert Griffin III played through a knee injury last season that ultimately led to his tearing his ACL in a wild-card playoff game against Seattle. To understand why this could happen, Sheinin writes, “You have to understand the culture of football, a strange and twisted world in which the rules of decency, honor and even medicine do not always apply.” (PAGE 58)

Redskins coach Mike Shanahan discussed the culture of playing hurt as Washington prepared to play Seattle in the NFC wild-card game.  “Once you have a guy who is going to put his body on the line when that might not be the best thing for himself or [his] future, [he gains] respect very quickly.” (PAGE 58)

Griffin first injured his knee in a December 2012 game against the Ravens after he took a vicious hit to his knee by 340-pound Baltimore nose-tackle Haloti Ngata. An MRI after the game, in which Griffin continued playing, showed he sprained his LCL. “I think the guys were proud of me for coming back in,” Griffin said after the game. And he was right. “To see him go out there on one leg and still [try] to throw,” veteran DeAngelo Hall told reporters, “just affirms who he is as a person, and it’s the reason he has a [captain’s] C on his chest.” (PAGE 58)

Shanahan, following doctors’ orders, benched RGIII for the next game in Cleveland. “Players play, so I was not happy with the decision,” Griffin said pointedly after the game. (PAGE 59) Griffin returned as the starter the following week in Philadelphia, but he was clearly not the same player. Shanahan all but abandoned the zone-read offense— Griffin rushed only twice but threw for 198 yards and two touchdowns in Washington’s sixth straight win. The Redskins earned a playoff spot the next week by defeating the Cowboys 28-18 behind 33 carries and 200 yards by running back Alfred Morris.

Surprisingly, the Redskins returned to the read-option (against Griffin’s suggestion to try to win with a drop-back passing offense) in the following week’s playoff game against Seattle. Griffin ran all over the field and appeared to reinjure his right knee late in the first quarter. Despite throwing his second TD pass to put his team up 14-0 two plays later, it was clear that everything changed for Griffin after that tweak of the knee— he struggled mightily thereafter and even the coaches considered pulling him in the fourth quarter. According to Shanahan, “[Griffin] said, ‘Hey, trust me. I want to be in there, and I deserve to be in there.’ I couldn’t disagree.” (PAGE 61)

Late in the game, Griffin tore his ACL after he awkwardly lunged for a bad snap. After the game, he said, “I did put myself at more risk by being out there,” Griffin said in a moment of reflection after the game. “But every time you step on the football field . . . you’re putting your life, your career, every single ligament in your body in jeopardy. That’s just the approach I had to take toward it. My teammates needed me out there, so I was out there for them.” (PAGE 61)

Sheinin concludes that the culture of football is to blame for Griffin’s playing hurt. “In the end, Griffin was both a victim of NFL culture and, along with his coach, the culture’s ultimate expression.” (PAGE 63)


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