The times they are a-changin’

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Two items in the past 24 hours illustrate well the Bob Dylan dictum. The first concerns RGIII’s benching for the remainder of the 2013 season. Since this story first broke Tuesday night, it’s already been beaten within an inch of its life. There’s been a bit of Kremlinology applied to this discussion. What are the motives of the sometimes inscrutable Shanahan? Did he want to “stick it” to Washington owner Dan Snyder or RGIII or both, because he’s jealous of their relationship? Or because he’s going to get canned anyway?  Did he get Snyder or GM Bruce Allen t sign off before he made the decision?

Who knows?

But the crux of the debate about the decision is whether this sort of thing is done in football. John Madden railed against the decision yesterday on these grounds – that baseball might “shut players down,” but it’s just not done in football. Many others have chimed in along similar lines. John Saunders, alongside Rece Davis in subbing for Cowherd this morning said that if RGIII is your franchise quarterback and he’s healthy, you play him. Golic said the same thing. On a related note, Herm Edwards expressed outrage last Friday about the prospect of the Packers deciding not to play a healthy Aaron Rodgers if the Packers were no longer in the playoff hunt.

One faulty premise in this debate is the nature of health. As normally discussed, health is a binary – you’re either healthy or you’re not. But that’s not really the right way to look at health. It’s a continuum. Speaking of football in particular, very few players, if any, can be said to be 100% healthy, especially not this late in the season. Any regular, apart from kickers, is almost certainly nursing some sort of injury. Most play in spite of those. But whether or not what Shanahan has chosen to do is normal in football, it makes perfect sense. He’s weighing how to handle a major asset, the franchise player, as Saunders said. And in doing so, surely Shanahan is right to think in cost-benefit terms. What is the value of playing RGIII at this point in the season? There might be some. Three games is nearly 20% of a season. RGIII is young and there is no substitute for live game action in enhancing the learning process.  There might be business considerations – are you going to piss off your fan base if you sit your star attraction? (this probably isn’t that great a consideration for Washington, since they have a roughly seven hundred year long waiting list for season tickets).

On the negative side, and returning to the notion of health as a continuum, what if RGIII is only 80% healthy, or 85% healthy. And what if that means his probability of suffering another significant injury (he’s already had two major knee surgeries) increases by five percent, or ten percent? Madden said if you don’t like how often RGIII has been sacked in recent weeks, block better for him. Gee, why didn’t Shanahan think of that? What if Shanahan knows that he’s got crappy personnel this year, which makes his already less-than 100% player more vulnerable?

I am not a Shanahan fan. In particular, I thought his actions during and after Washington’s playoff loss to Seattle in January were disgraceful. This is an overused admonition – but I thought, in fact, that what Shanahan did was a fireable offense. Griffin could barely walk, let alone run. A serious injury was as close to inevitable in that game as you are ever likely to see. And Shanahan responded afterwards by saying he did what the player wanted. Pathetic.

So maybe he’s overcompensating for his negligence in January. That doesn’t make it the wrong decision. His team is 3-10. They have nothing to play for. His second string QB has shown – in limited but competitive action – that he’s a competent pro. The team is unlikely to embarrass itself any more than it already has. Meanwhile, the player on whom the franchise has staked his future can get the proper breathing room to completely recover that he probably never had, since he rushed back from surgery to play in the season opener.

The argument that this “just not done” in football is not a meaningful one.

Speaking a new era, the howls of protest have been loud this morning in response to MLB’s announcement yesterday that it is likely to ban collisions at home plate.  Briefly, I am 100% agreement with Greenie, who argued this morning in favor of the impending rule change. Baseball fans don’t go to the park to see collisions at home plate. No, they don’t happen often. But they can result in serious injury and they’re usually. And the economics of the decision are, in fact, pretty clear. You want your best players on the field. This is why, as Cowherd often rightly points out, it makes sense for the NFL to protect quarterbacks.

Maybe fans don’t go to the park specifically to see Buster Posey play (though maybe they do). But they’re sure more likely to buy tickets to see a competitive Giants team in a pennant race. And Posey increases that prospect.

I know the Mike Golics of the world (and he’s a generally reasonable spokesperson for this position) think sports is getting too soft and that leagues are over-reacting to specific events. On the latter count, there’s some truth to what he says. But the athletes competing in major team sports are bigger, stronger and more athletic that they’ve ever been. The games are fine. Greater caution in handling injuries and in legislating rules changes to prevent them don’t detract from that fact.

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3 comments

  1. My thing is, players and former players are always talking about protecting their bodies from injuries that can affect them for the rest of their life, but then you see these young guys diving into an empty endzone for show. That’s slightly off-topic, but the point is that you can’t bash the NFL for not protecting the players and then turn around and get upset with a coach for, well, protecting his player, whatever the reason is behind it. It’s done in a lot of other sports. In basketball, if the team has no chance of making the Playoffs, the stars will be benched the last few games or so. Heck, even if the game is a blow-out, the stars will sit. Maybe it hasn’t been done in football in the past, but maybe that’s what the problem is. I’d hate to think that some of those concussions those former players suffered that led to their serious problems occurred in games that had already been decided or at the end of a non-contending season.

    1. I don’t know if you were thinking of this when you wrote about players sometimes causing self-inflicted wounds, but Adrian Peterson, when he was at Oklahoma, broke his collarbone on a celebratory dive into the end zone at the end of a long run. I didn’t remember this at the time, but that was the game that his dad, just released from prison, saw AP play for the first time.

      1. Wow, I actually didn’t even know about that. (I’m not a big college football fan.) But you kind of see what I mean from that example, though it happens in the NFL all the time too, even if it doesn’t lead to the same result. Football is a brutal sport. Griffin is a young player. Adding more wear and tear at such a young age is the last thing you want to do. Fans can’t have it both ways. They want to hate the NFL and label it as an evil, money-hungry empire, and they want the game to stay tough and not “wussify” it. You have to pick one, or find a balance. I think sitting RGIII for just these last few games is the perfect balance. It’s not like he’s sitting him after only half the season.

        The funny thing is, I don’t even like Shanahan. He’s the only coach that will run his star Back to death all the way down the field, and then give his no-name back-up running back three touchdowns from the 1-yard line.

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