The Washington Redskins decision to start Robert Griffin III next Monday night in the season opener raises serious red flags. Redskins Coach Mike Shanahan has expressed “concerns” as recently as last Thursday. His surgeon, Dr. James Andrews, has also expressed concerns over the last week. Both signed off on his return today and as a result, he will start against the Philadelphia Eagles.
Both cleared Robert to play after carefully evaluating his condition. They are both experts in their respective fields. Shanahan as an NFL coach, and Dr. Andrews as a nationally renowned surgeon for many elite athletes. Their decision has to be respected, given their experience, knowledge, and credibility.
“100%” Cleared to Play
Athletes want to play, period. Robert is a fierce competitor and is paid millions of dollars to be the “Face of the Redskins.” He will present himself as ready to play because it is his nature as an athlete to be “ready to go” on opening day.
It has been said that after consulting with Robert, all concerns have been addressed. His clearance most likely follows the traditional “100%” ready-to-play requirement of injured athletes before returning from a severe sports-related injury. This addresses the stability of his knee, flexibility, range of motion, ability to run, cut, jump, backpedal, and all of the other things required of Robert in the Redskins uptempo offense.
This “100%” definition does not take into account the mental and emotional trauma Robert has suffered during each of his three knee injuries. Robert suffered a torn ACL while at Baylor University, a strained ACL last regular season, and completely tore the ACL in a playoff game in January of this year.
With each injury, Robert suffers intense physical pain, followed by the pain of surgery and rehab. He also suffers mentally and emotionally. The brain springs into action to compartmentalize this cauldron of physical pain, horrific mental images, and the intense emotions and sensations that are surging through his body, brain, and nervous system as he is injured. This process continues while he is carried off the field, diagnosed, prepares for surgery, and works his way through the rehab process.
Where The Mind Leads The Body Follows
Elite athletes are conditioned to compartmentalize this information on a conscious level. You see elite athletes return from serious injuries all the time and compete at a high level. Look at what Adrian Peterson accomplished last season after returning from a torn ACL.
What is going on in the brain and body unconsciously is what concerns me. Look at the Chicago Bull’s Derrick Rose. He tore his ACL and has been cleared to play at “100%.” He has not returned to a high level of play. Could Derrick’s mind be doing its job by unconsciously holding him back to prevent another injury? I feel confident in saying that this is exactly what is going on in this case.
With each injury, the neocortex in Robert’s brain does it’s job to process as much of this neurological information as possible. The overwhelming information surging through his brain and nervous system overwhelms the part of the brain (neo-cortex) that processes the normal incoming stimulus that an NFL quarterback processes during a game. The limbic system takes over and stores this overwhelming information. Its job is to make sure that Robert is safe, stays alive, and suffers no further injuries. In a sense, his brain goes on full alert and doesn’t calm down until this overload is addressed and processed.’
Experiencing multiple injuries creates a layering of stored information in Robert’s limbic system. All of the anger, frustration, despair, fear, anxiety, confusion, loss, and other intense emotions, imagery related to the injury, and sensations are held in the limbic system.
When Robert goes out to play Monday night, his limbic system can spring into action and unconsciously attempt to keep him safe and free from suffering a fourth knee injury. This sets his body up to favor his injured knee and puts more weight, torque, and force on his other knee. He might play cautiously or hesitate.
One might say that you will never see Robert Griffin play that way, and I agree if his neo-cortex is running the show. If his limbic system kicks in, then we might see a change in the way he plays the game, and there is a possibility that he might suffer another injury.
“The New Way Back’ from Sports Related Injuries
Teaching Robert’s brain, specifically his limbic system, to process this cauldron of stored information relating to his multiple knee injuries can lessen, if not prevent, another knee injury. By addressing the mental, emotional, and psychological trauma he has suffered and endured during each of his three knee injuries, Robert can return to play at a high level both consciously and unconsciously with no fear of re-injury.
I have seen athletes return to remarkable levels of play after suffering serious knee injuries, broken legs, crushed faces after being hit by 95-mph fastballs, horrific falls, concussions, and many other serious sports-related injuries.
In Roberts case, I hope that my experiences working with injured athletes prove wrong. He is an electrifying player and has done so much to help the Redskins, the NFL, and the game of football. More than that, he is an intelligent, thoughtful, and humble young man. He honors and respects the game.
I would like to see him in the league for a long time.