Thoughts on Dr. James Andrews and Robert Griffin III

I’ll have more on Robert Griffin’s aggravated LCL sprain, associated injuries and thoughts on his recovery timetable later this week. But I’m fascinated (though heartsick at the outcome) at how the Robert Griffin III story developed over the past 72 hours.

The dynamics of how a medical team interacts and communicates with an injured player and the coaching staff are often delicate. It’s something I experience on the sidelines of high school football games despite being fortunate to work with a coach and program that holds the health of its players as its highest priority.

Some push and pull between a team’s medical staff, and its players and coaches on when and how to clear injured players is common. But it is rare for those discussions (and, possibly, disagreements) to become public.

So, I was struck by the candid comments made on the record by Dr. James Andrews to USA Today’s Robert Klemko before Griffin took the field against Seattle last weekend. Nearly a month after Griffin’s injury, Andrews said he had been a “nervous wreck” and “holding his breath” since Griffin returned, acknowledging that Griffin was not fully recovered from a low grade LCL sprain. Andrews was seemingly implying that Griffin was not yet ready to play. But Andrews also said that Griffin had “passed all the tests and functional things we do” and presumably was involved in the process of clearing him to play – albeit certainly with reservations – with a brace.

My initial read of Andrews’ comments suggested that he was conflicted about a close decision to allow Griffin to play and, possibly, a little perturbed at Mike Shanahan for telling reporters that Griffin had been cleared by the medical staff (and Andrews specifically) to return to the game minutes after his initial injury.

But it is extremely unusual to hear a team physician speak about an injury. On the rare occasions they do, it is nearly always after the condition has resolved or a decision has been made to end the player’s season. What set of circumstances could have led a world-renowned and experienced consultant to open up about a star athlete’s already controversial injury less than 24 hours before a playoff game?

A remarkable story in today’s Washington Post may provide the reason. Andrews’ comments came during an interview that had been arranged with the expectation that he’d be discussing his new book on the prevention of injury in young athletes. Andrews had proved unreachable through the team and his office, a strong indication that he was not inclined to comment on Griffin’s injury. It is very likely that Andrews did not approach the Klemko interview with the guarded nature with which he may otherwise approach an interview on a player he’s evaluated and treated.

Andrews did not censor himself during the interview and could have refused comment. But he didn’t. I see an element of concern from Andrews that he had said too much in Klemko’s initial story and there is some damage control evident in the subsequent clarifications and comments by both Andrews and Shanahan. Regardless of the circumstances, there can be no doubt that a concern for Griffin’s knee was at the forefront of Andrews’ mind. He had very likely expressed those sentiments privately many times over the past month.

To be clear, I’m not speculating that Andrews caved to pressure to clear Griffin or that Griffin’s aggravated LCL sprain and associated injuries were predictable or inevitable. I think there’s almost zero chance of the former and have no way to know on the latter. But this collection of circumstances makes it unlikely that we’ll hear candidly from a team physician about a player’s injury for a long while.

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Categories: Injury Updates

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