“I knew where you were going,” Griffin said.
In recent sports history, there may not be a perfect parallel for what happened Monday night to Kevin Durant. After sitting out for 30 days with a calf injury, and amid speculation regarding his recovery and condition, Durant returned with the Golden State Warriors’ season one loss away from extinction. In the second quarter, he planted on his right leg, fell in a heap and grabbed his calf. He needed help walking off the floor and left the arena on crutches.
“Anytime a guy goes out there and puts it on the line for his team, he should be respected for that,” said Griffin, the NFL offensive rookie of the year in 2012 and now the Ravens’ backup quarterback. “He took 30 days off, and he felt like he was ready to go. They cleared him, and he felt like he could play. He went out there and did what great players do — you play . . . I think everybody should be praying for him instead of the natural thing to do, which is question the decision.”
In January 2013, as a Washington Redskins rookie quarterback, Griffin played a wild-card playoff game with a compromised right knee. It worsened throughout the loss to Seattle until he tried to recover a low snap, his knee bent at a terrible angle and he tore multiple ligaments.
Like Griffin’s choice to play six years ago, Durant’s return and subsequent injury raised familiar issues pertaining to athletes playing through injury: gallantry vs. self-preservation, the meaning of sacrifice, the scrutiny professional athletes face to perform, who’s to blame for possibly foreseeable disaster.
Griffin said Durant’s fall made him flash back to his own, and he foremost wished outsiders would think of Durant’s well-being before criticizing the choice.
“There’s so much pressure in sports overall,” Griffin said. “I’ve never been, up to this point in my career, to the Super Bowl, which would be the equivalent of the Finals. I can only imagine how much Kevin Durant wanted to play in that game. It really comes down to collectively everybody making the decision. If you give a player the option, and you say, ‘Hey, we think you’re healthy enough. We think you can go,’ what player is going to say no? No player is going to say, ‘No, I don’t want to do it.’”
While Griffin felt an intense, internal instinct to play, he also acknowledged external forces. Before Game 5, Durant faced whispers about frustrated teammates and coaches wondering when he would return. He had made attempts to practice throughout the Finals, and each time it resulted in more frustration. The Warriors kept hoping and waiting, and the pressure mounted on Durant.
“It’s a Catch-22,” Griffin said. “If KD doesn’t play, they say, ‘Why isn’t he playing?’ If KD does play and stays healthy, they say, ‘Well, he should have been playing the whole time.’ If KD plays and gets hurt, like he did, they question why he was out there. It’s a Catch-22 for players.”
Griffin said he still doesn’t know whether team officials, doctors or the player should make the ultimate decision on whether someone plays through injury. But he repeated that any time it’s left up to a player, the player will choose to play. Despite the calamitous effect his knee injury had on his career, Griffin said he still has no regrets about playing against the Seahawks.
“I’ve had enough time to reflect and understand what happened,” Griffin said. “As a player, is it a mistake to go out there when you’re injured? I think to the outside people, they would say yes. As a player, they call it fight-or-flight mode. You either fight or you take it in. Every great player that I’ve known or talked to or been mentored from — in those situations, you fight.”