Sunday, March 09, 2014 8:44 PM
Published on: Friday, January 18, 2013
By Margie Burns
Even for a non-sports devotee, the 2012 Washington Redskins season was fun. Like millions of other people, I was thrilled when the Redskins defeated the Giants on Dec. 3. Then came that Dec. 9 nail-biter overtime game against the Baltimore Ravens, the game that got Washington a chance at playoffs. It was great when Washington tied Baltimore and then won in overtime — but I cringed when rookie quarterback Robert Griffin III was injured again.
Like everybody else, or everyone sane, I was relieved when Griffin did not play the next game. Washington beat the Browns anyway, and I was relieved again when he played a passing game in the Dec. 23 victory over the Eagles, rather than trying to run hundreds of yards on a sore knee.
Then came the Dec. 30 victory over the Dallas Cowboys. Even while the Skins were winning, I never thought the quarterback looked 100 percent. Everyone who mattered was jubilant over RG3’s comeback as well as the division title. None of the top sports experts and commentators voiced much concern. But watching the game, I wondered whether that superb athlete was fighting off flu or something. He just didn’t look the same, and I wondered inwardly how he would be able to make it through another game any time soon.
Washington now has two players recovering from a second surgery on the anterior cruciate ligament, one of two small ligaments in the knee holding the two biggest bones of the leg together. Like quarterback RG3, defensive back Chase Minnifield also injured an ACL, then re-injured it, then — seven months ago — had surgery performed by celebrity sports doctor James Andrews.
I hope with all my heart that both young guys recover, not to presume that their careers need my help. Meanwhile, Dr. Andrews has made some public statements sufficiently clear even to a non-sports expert. No physician has a crystal ball, but any physician can talk about success rates. Andrews, interviewed on Sirius XM and quoted at NFL.com, had the following to say.
First, ACL reconstructive procedures are “one of our best operations we do in sports, as far as the overall results … 95 percent, is just a figure that comes out of the head right now, success rate. That’s across the board.”
Second, however, that 95 percent success rate is for patients in general — not for NFL quarterbacks.
“Now, if you take an NFL running back that’s got to depend on his knee function probably at the highest level, there’s about 55 percent of them that are still playing football after what we would call a successful ACL surgery,” Andrews said, “about 55 percent still playing actively in the NFL after two years.”
Third, the problem is not the surgery; the problem is what you do with the knee.
“So is that a failure of the ACL surgery? No, that’s a failure of that running back losing a step and losing the ability to cut on a dime and is not able to play. So, it’s not as rosy as what it might look, as you go up the ladder to try to play football professionally after an ACL operation,” Andrews added.
This kind of statement is refreshingly candid from a doctor. Usually, you have to talk with a sharp head resident or a night nurse to get this kind of clarity.
There is plenty of clarity to go around, in hindsight. The NFL fined the Redskins in October for reporting RG3’s concussion as being “shaken up.” The news media praised Coach Mike Shanahan for not sending Griffin back in the next game after his sprain Dec. 9. Griffin remained in that game, playing injured, for four more plays. The Washington Post reported that Skins owner Dan Snyder has been uncharacteristically modest and quiet lately. USA Today reported Jan. 6 that Dr. Andrews never cleared Griffin to keep playing.
Andrews, who is promoting a book on sports medicine, said that Griffin “didn’t even let us look at him.” Andrews said Griffin “came off the field, walked through the sidelines, circled back through the players and took off back to the field. It wasn’t our opinion. We didn’t even get to touch him or talk to him. Scared the hell out of me.”
Now there is copious argument about whether RG3 should have been pulled out of the Seattle game, or if so, when. He never should have been on the field in the first place.