The following article was written by Benjamin Haynes, Esq.
The term “Gross Negligence” was mentioned in a recent article written by the TheBigLead.com. This term was in reference to the Washington Redskins Head Coach, Mike Shanahan playing Robert Griffin III (RGIII) in the playoff game against the Seattle Seahawks. Robert Griffin initially injured his knee during a game against the Baltimore Ravens. RGIII returned to that Ravens game for a few more plays before he was finally pulled. After that game, it was reported that coach Shanahan stated Dr. James Andrews had cleared RGIII to return to the game. However, on Sunday, just hours before Griffin’s first playoff game against the Seahawks, Dr. James Andrews told USA Today that he couldn’t have cleared RGIII to return to that game against the Ravens because he never had the opportunity to examine him.
Andrews went on to say, “I’ve been a nervous wreck letting him [RGIII] come back as quick as he has. He’s doing a lot better this week, but he’s still recovering and I’m holding my breath because of it.” Andrews went on to say that Robert Griffin passed all of his tests, but it was obvious from Andrews’ demeanor in answering the questions about Griffin’s health that the Doctor did not have full confidence in allowing Griffin to play in the playoff game.
Andrews’ “nervous wreck” feeling turned into a reality Sunday evening when RGIII dropped back in shotgun formation late in the 4th quarter and received a low snap, which he then bent down to try and gather. That’s when the nightmare for the Redskins organization occurred; Griffin’s knee visibly gave out and he hit the turf in obvious pain. An examination of Griffin’s knee has not been released as of yet.
The term gross negligence is an extremely strong term to reference. While most people would agree it is not gross negligence to play a player who has been cleared by a team doctor, many would argue that it is gross negligence to continue to play a player who is visibly injured and can’t function properly. Griffin re-injured his knee in the first half of the Sunday night game. As the Redskins started their drive in the second half, Griffin was hobbling worse than ever before. Should the Redskins have taken Griffin out at this time? That is up for debate.
After all of this, the future of Robert Griffin’s long term health may or may not be in jeopardy. With the gross negligence term being thrown around, the questions arises, are there any legal implications based on the facts presented above? For this question, I interviewed Sports Illustrated’s legal analyst, Michael McCann. McCann is one of the nation’s leading experts in sports law.
“I do not view what happened in the Seahawks game as grounds for a lawsuit or action by the NFLPA,” said McCann. “Clearly, RGIII was playing hurt — maybe badly hurt. And with the benefit of hindsight, it was a mistake for him and the Redskins to have him out there. However, unless we hear that he was either 1) pressured to play hurt or 2) that the Redskins played him over a doctor’s objection/without medical clearance, I don’t think there would be much of a legal claim.”
McCann went on to further state, “In the absence of those facts, if RGIII pursued a tort claim, it would likely be bared by the terms of his employment contract and the CBA; there would also be a strong argument for assumption of risk. We’d need to hear a fairly damning piece of evidence for RGIII to have a viable claim — and even if one emerges, the chances of RGIII filing a lawsuit seem remote.”
For the time being, it seems as though chance of a legal claim arising are slim. McCann believes that this is less of a legal issue, and more of a football issue. “I think the mistake was not a legal one, but rather one of coaching and communication. In terms of coaching, RGIII’s knee injury downgraded his play to that of a shadow of himself. It’s hard to imagine that Kirk Cousins would have been worse. Shanahan’s job is to make the right call there. In terms of communication, RGIII and Shanahan should have been more honest/realistic about the injury in their discussions as to whether he should have kept playing.”