Do Sports Players Control Their Own Bodies?

Why RG3's decision to play on a hurt knee—and against medical advice—is part of being a sports professional

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Toni L. Sandys / The Washington Post / Getty Images

Washington Redskins star quarterback Robert Griffin III is defending his decision to play on a hurt knee in yesterday’s playoff game against the Seattle Seahawks. ”Many may question, criticize & think they have all the right answers. But few have been in the line of fire in battle,” Griffin tweeted, and he’s right: An athlete should be able to decide if he wants to play hurt, certainly when he has access to information to make that decision an informed one, as was the case with RG3. He had a knee injury (sprained LCL) that was at risk to get worse (and it did,) but it was not a life threatening situation. People go against doctor’s orders all the time. An injury is the team’s liability but it’s our body and we can control it.

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I learned this lesson for the first time in my minor league baseball career. I was sick and was running a fairly high fever when I woke up at the team hotel. I thought there was no point in going to the stadium so I called in sick. They told me I needed to come in and not only did they evaluate me and let me rest in the training room, but I ended up playing that day. I was not unhappy with that decision, and from then on, I did everything in my power to be informed about illness and decided that if I wasn’t in the hospital, I would play.

Sure, the Redskins lost, which makes his choice look questionable in hindsight. Yet if he hobbled around like Michael Jordan or John Elway or Derek Jeter and won while carrying his team on his back even when his back was broken, few would be questioning his decision.  Greatness plays with serious injury as much as it toys with its opponents, and RG3 had earned the right to see if he could meet that challenge. You never know unless you put yourself out there.

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It is rare for a team to come out and say that they went along with Griffin’s choice while marking it with an asterisk that he was countering medical advice, as the Washington Redskins have done. This is because the NFL is struggling against the perception that they don’t care about player health. But in the end, the player should be able to decide what he is willing to risk for his goals and for his future, and deal with the consequences of that choice. It is part of being a professional.

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