AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:
Round two of the National Football League playoffs are this weekend. But the NFL story of the week was about Robert Griffin III and his knee. The star rookie quarterback for the Washington Redskins blew it out during the wildcard playoff loss to the Seattle Seahawks on Sunday. Of course, the howls of anguish came from Washingtonians as they saw their team's best player in years crumple up in a heap.
And the anguish turned to anger at the team for letting Griffin stay in the game when he was clearly hurt. Sportswriter Stefan Fatsis joins us most Fridays and some Thursdays to talk about sports and the business of sports. And, Stefan, Robert Griffin had surgery on that knee yesterday. How did it go?
STEFAN FATSIS, BYLINE: Well, it was performed by orthopedist James Andrews. He operated on two of the main ligaments in Griffin's right knee. Structurally, that's a lot of damage, and it certainly will extend his recovery time. Estimates from surgeons for his return to play seem to be eight to 12 months. How he will play when does return - speed, mobility, his propensity to take off and run - it's impossible to say. Regardless, what happened last Sunday to Robert Griffin was a career-changing event.
CORNISH: And maybe not just for him, right? The Redskins' head coach Mike Shanahan, he's had to defend his decision to let Griffin play on a knee that was injured earlier in the season. So, I mean, he's been criticized this week. How do you see it?
FATSIS: Well, there's no doubt in my mind that it was an irresponsible decision at the time and in hindsight: selfish, short-sighted, and depending on your standards for sports, possibly unethical. But I also understand how it happened. Rational decisions are seldom made in the chaos of the sidelines of an NFL game. Players are taught by coaches to believe the cliches - toughness, commitment, gutting it out, being a man - as Griffin himself said after the game.
Coaches are thinking, first and foremost, about the short term: How do I win this game? I'm sure that Mike Shanahan, in the moment, believed he needed Griffin, in almost any condition, to win that game. He wasn't thinking about the possibility of a devastating injury.
CORNISH: But shouldn't he have been?
FATSIS: Look, I spent a summer in training camp with one of Shanahan's teams. He is an exemplar of the culture of football in which perfection is expected, in which players are expendable, in which debates like this one are usually fleeting. He's not a bad guy at all. But as football faces increased scrutiny over concussions, long-term brain damage, other health issues, this short-term style of thinking is going to have to change.
And it's not just coaches. Sideline doctors - and what are they doing on the sidelines - team owners, players, media, fans. One former NFL player that I know told me that there are no adults down there on the sidelines during games. Surely, we can find a way to force this league and its teams to make sure that there are. Players need to stop playing through real injuries. Coaches need to stop encouraging them to do so.
CORNISH: And you mentioned concussions and long-term brain damage. Today, it was announced that former NFL linebacker Junior Seau had degenerative brain disease when he committed suicide in May.
FATSIS: Yeah, that announcement came from the National Institutes of Health, which was asked by Seau's family after his death to study his brain. Several neuropathologists did. The NIH said that Seau's brain tissue was consistent with the degenerative disease chronic traumatic encephalopathy, which has been found in the autopsies of other football players and other athletes who were exposed to repeated head injuries. Seau played 20 years in the NFL, and by the way, never had a diagnosed concussion.
At this point, that's no surprise, of course. Every case like Seau's confirms the long-term dangers in football, and it makes you wonder what's going to happen to the sport over time. It also makes it hard to segue to this weekend's games, but I will be watching and so will millions of other people. That's the lure of football.
CORNISH: And of course, eight teams on the road to the Super Bowl. Give us a quick analysis.
FATSIS: Two games on Saturday: Baltimore at Denver, Green Bay at San Francisco. Two games on Sunday: Seattle at Atlanta, Houston at New England. My summary: I hope these games are more competitive and interesting than the first round of the playoffs last weekend, and I hope next week we're not talking about some guy's devastating injury.
CORNISH: Stefan Fatsis is the author of "A Few Seconds of Panic: A Sportswriter Plays in the NFL." Stefan, thanks for talking with us.
FATSIS: Thanks, Audie. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.