Almost four months to the date after the Washington Nationals shut down ace pitcher Stephen Strasburg before the playoffs for fear of him re-injuring his surgically repaired right arm, the Washington Redskins watched as their quarterback Robert Griffin III collapsed in a heap twice after his injured right knee gave out during an NFL playoff game against the Seattle Seahawks.
The Nationals were roundly criticized for benching Strasburg and the Redskins are taking heat for playing Griffin III which begs the questions as to who did the right thing?
It is hard to say who was right in that both teams failed to advance in the playoffs, which is what their ultimate goal was. Without Strasburg, the Nationals were eliminated in the NL Divisional Series by the St. Louis Cardinals. The Redskins lost in their playoff opener to the Seattle. So, from a win loss perspective it is a wash.
However, the Strasburg and Griffin III situations are about more than winning and losing. In both cases, young athletes with bright futures were deemed at risk of having their futures take a turn for the worst at any time, because of career threatening injuries. Strasburg was coming back from an elbow injury which required Tommy John surgery and forced him to miss almost all of the 2011 season. Griffin III was trying to play on a knee which was badly sprained in a week 14 game against the Baltimore Ravens.
From a distance, one could say that the Nationals had a chance to better prepare for losing Strasburg, because they knew he was hurt. Thus, they could form a plan for his recovery and one that would be in the team’s best interest. Meanwhile, the Redskins had a healthy Griffin III going into the season and could only assume he’d be there at the end.
The truth is that going into the season, the Redskins knew as much about Griffin III’s knee as the Nationals did Strasburg’s arm. Griffin III had suffered a knee injury while in college at Baylor and the Bears shut him down for the 2009 season. The Redskins knew this when they drafted him. It may have been one of the reasons why they drafted another quarterback in Kirk Cousins. Cousins may have been thought of as insurance in case Griffin III got hurt.
Ironically, with about a month left in each team’s seasons, decisions had to be made about their future stars. What made both decisions more complicated was that, to everyone’s surprise, each team had a chance to make it to the post season. Knowing that they would be criticized, the Nationals stuck with their plan to shut down Strasburg. Feeling that they would not be criticized (after all, the culture of football is much different than baseball), the Redskins sat Griffin III for one game then put him back into the lineup.
The results of both decisions are now obvious. The Nationals will have a healthy Strasburg going into spring training while the Redskins may not have Griffin III for the entire 2013 season.
In the short term, neither decision helped the Nationals nor Redskins advance in the playoffs. In the long term, the Nationals may end up being the team which made the correct decision as their star will still be on the field.