The NFL Players Association announced Friday that it had decided not to initiate a formal investigation under the sport’s collective bargaining agreement of the Washington Redskins’ handling of the knee injury suffered by quarterback Robert Griffin III.
The union conducted an informal inquiry this week and concluded, according to a person familiar with the findings, that Griffin never played in a game after being diagnosed by doctors with an injury too severe for him to continue playing.
The informal inquiry by the union did not deal with the issue of whether Redskins Coach Mike Shanahan should have permitted Griffin to continue playing in last Sunday’s playoff loss to the Seattle Seahawks after reinjuring his right knee.
“The report essentially showed that his medical diagnosis and the treatment that he received after diagnosis were good,” the person familiar with the findings said, speaking on the condition of anonymity because union officials made only limited public comments about their conclusions.
“It showed that he did not return to play in any game after he was diagnosed with an injury [with which] he could not play. The difference between playing hurt and playing after a doctor tells you that you can’t play, that’s what the focus is here.”
The person said that union officials did not “feel like it’s appropriate [for them] to take a position on” Shanahan’s coaching decisions during Sunday’s game. The union felt that it “got swallowed up in this Shanahan debate” without intending to be involved in that issue, the person said.
Griffin underwent surgery Wednesday in Florida to have tears of the lateral collateral and anterior cruciate ligaments in his right knee repaired. He exited Sunday’s defeat to the Seahawks at FedEx Field after reinjuring his knee late in the game. He was playing in his third game since suffering a mild sprain of the LCL in that knee during a Dec. 9 game against the Baltimore Ravens. Shanahan has received widespread criticism for allowing Griffin to remain in Sunday’s game after reinjuring his knee in the first quarter.
The Redskins declined to comment through a spokesman about the conclusions reached by the union. Union officials declined to be interviewed about their findings after releasing a written statement through a Web site affiliated with the NFLPA.
The union probe amounted to the closest thing there is likely to be by a governing body in the NFL about how the Redskins handled Griffin’s injury. The union has the right under the CBA to demand a formal investigation if it feels that a player’s medical care has been handled improperly by a team. If the union had exercised its right to initiate a formal investigation, that inquiry would have been conducted by two or more independent doctors appointed by a joint committee on player safety operated by the league and union.
The union stopped short of criticizing Shanahan’s decision to allow Griffin to continue playing Sunday. But Thom Mayer, the union’s medical director, said in a written statement on the union-affiliated Web site: “The quality of medical care [Griffin] ultimately received is only one part of this.”
DeMaurice Smith, the union’s executive director, said in a written statement on the same Web site that “playing through pain is a harsh reality of our business and our union will always hold the League and the clubs accountable to the best medical care. Our thoughts are with Robert as he recovers from his surgery and we hope he returns to full strength.”
The person familiar with the union’s findings said that James Andrews, the orthopedic surgeon who is on the Redskins’ sideline for games and performed Griffin’s surgery Wednesday at his medical facility near Pensacola, Fla., was cooperative with the NFLPA inquiry.
“Dr. Andrews was very transparent,” the person said. “He was very responsive.”
The interactions between Andrews and Shanahan about Griffin’s injury have been closely scrutinized lately. Andrews told USA Today last weekend that he did not clear Griffin to return temporarily to the Ravens game, as Shanahan said at the time. Griffin was hurt during that game on a hit by the Ravens’ Haloti Ngata. Griffin left the game for one play, then returned for four plays before exiting for good.
But Andrews later seemed to revise that comment, telling The Washington Post that neither he nor Shanahan lied but there was “a communication problem.” Andrews said he didn’t get a chance to examine Griffin but gave Shanahan a hand signal to indicate that “I guess he’s okay” to play.
The union concluded that it was “comfortable with” what happened during the Baltimore game, the person with knowledge of the findings said.
“There was a misunderstanding” initially, the person said. “Once he was examined, it was determined he had an injury where he couldn’t continue.”
Shanahan has said he followed the recommendations of Andrews and other members of the team’s medical staff consistently about when to allow Griffin to play and when to keep him sidelined. Griffin missed one game after his initial LCL injury, then returned to the lineup.
He limped throughout Sunday’s game after a first-quarter play on which he planted on his right leg and twisted his body to throw back toward his left. Shanahan and Griffin said after the game that Griffin had talked his way into remaining in the game.
Griffin left for good when his knee bent awkwardly and he crumpled to the turf after failing to reach a low snap in the fourth quarter. Shanahan said after the game that he probably would second-guess his decision to allow Griffin to keep playing, but then said Monday he thought the right decision had been made.
The union concluded that Griffin was made aware of the risks that he faced by continuing to play after his initial LCL injury, the person with knowledge of the NFLPA findings said.
Hamilton: Moving forward, Redskins need new plan
Graphic: Griffin’s knee, post-surgery