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?
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.