When Washington Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III gimped onto FedEx Field in the fourth quarter of a January playoff game against the Seattle Seahawks, he was under the gaze of no fewer than six physicians and assorted medical personnel. There was an internist, two orthopedists, an emergency medicine specialist, a neurologist and a renowned knee surgeon. There were five certified athletic trainers on the sideline, and another stationed in a booth high above, an “eye in the sky” tasked with spotting injuries.
It was visible to all of them, as it was to the audience, that Griffin was so compromised by a strained right knee ligament that he could barely run. Yet the experts did not intervene. In the next moment, something became plain: There is medicine, and then there is National Football League medicine, and the practice of the two isn’t always the same.
Griffin tried to field a bad snap, and his leg collapsed at a weird angle, his knee so unstable that even a cumbersome brace could not keep him upright. He fell to the ground like a doll with a broken spring, injured with torn anterior cruciate and lateral collateral ligaments. With that, a central tenet of the Hippocratic oath — “Do no harm” — instantly seemed turned on its head. Asked later how Griffin could have been permitted to retake the field, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell called it “a medical decision.” Yet in the aftermath, even longtime NFL loyalists questioned why doctors allowed a brilliant rookie quarterback to play hurt and jeopardize his future.