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John Keim podcast raises issues about Redskins training and medical staffs

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Is communication the heart of the problem here?

I don’t listen to podcasts.

Normally.

But I read a comment here on Hogs Haven about the recent John Keim podcast regarding the “Trent Williams Crisis” and was curious enough about what the commenter had written to click on the link and listen.


Click here to connect to the John Keim “Trent Williams Crisis” podcast


The podcast was a conversation between three people: John Keim of ESPN, Tarik El-Bashir of the Athletic, and Michael Phillips, sports writer for the Richmond-Times Dispatch.

The discussion, at one point, focused on three separate areas of the Redskins player physical development, health and wellness:

  • Strength & Conditioning
  • Athletic Training
  • Medical Treatment

The three podcast participants shared their second-hand impressions of the three areas based on what they had heard from Redskins and former Redskins over the years.

I thought it might be useful to summarize my impressions of what they said:

Strength and Conditioning

Head strength & conditioning coach: Chad Englehart

The three reporters were unanimous in saying that the players loved the strength and conditioning staff of the Redskins.

Tarik El-Bashir said quite specifically that, according to players, “Chad and [Assistant S&C coach] Kavan [Latham] do a great job. I think the players really like them.” John Keim echoed this sentiment enthusiastically.

The point was made that fans (like us here at Hogs Haven) often point the finger at the Strength and Conditioning staff, but, the podcast pointed out, the players actually feel very good about this aspect of their Redskins experience.

Athletic Training

Head Athletic Trainer: Larry Hess

The reporters clearly believed that players had a lower opinion of the Athletic Training Department under the leadership of Larry Hess than they do of the S&C team.

I found it interesting to note that, when I looked for details about the departments on the Redskins.com website, Athletic Training was listed as part of the front office, while Chad Englehart was listed with the coaches.

Keim introduced the idea, based on his discussion with “a former Redskin”, that there is a natural tension between the team’s athletic training staff, whose goal is to get the player ready to get back on the field, and a third-party (second opinion) physician unaffiliated with the team, whose primary concerns about the player’s health may be different. Keim asked if this innate tension, common to any professional sports team, was any different where the Redskins were concerned.

Tarik El-Bashir’s response was notable:

“Sometimes, I feel like the players and the Training Staff/Medical Staff can be at odds because they’re kind of at cross-purposes. The player is looking at his personal health and prolonging his career as long as he can, and the athletic training staff is getting ‘leaned on’ by the coaches to get this guy ready because they’ve built their offense around this player, so, ‘please get him back out there’. So, there’s always gonna be a little bit of tension there.

I think that a lot of the things that I’ve heard with regard to this team is that it always seems to revolve around communication. It just feels like the players aren’t being told, or getting the same word from the athletic trainers that, maybe, the medical staff has communicated to them. I feel that there’s always a breakdown in communication.”

Keim chimed in: “Yes, that’s the number one word.”

Medical Care

According to redskinshealthandwellness.com, “The Redskins Medical Team includes three members of the Inova Sports Medicine team helping to provide the highest quality medical care, where the focus is to improve performance, decrease injuries and provide immediate access to an elite group of medical specialists.”

Head Team Physician: Dr. Robin V. West, MD

The team of three comprises two orthopedic surgeons and a primary sports care physician. The latter is Dr. Peter H. MacArthur, MD, while the second orthopedic surgeon is Dr. Brandon J. Bryant, MD.

John Keim indicated that there have been a lot of questions raised by players about the Medical Care, and that “the recovery aspect has been a big deal.”

The three reporters made the point that they, as reporters, had little or no access to the medical staff, saying, “They aren’t allowed to speak to us” — the point being that the reporters had no real direct knowledge, and also very little indirect knowledge, about the Medical Care team or the care given to the players.

Phillips, however, raised the concern that anyone might have “looking from the outside”; that is, the number of medical problems that seem to crop up. He pointed to the post-operative infection that Derrius Guice had to deal with, and the apparent effort to “rush” Colt McCoy back to the field late last season. Phillips pointed out that, “You have to ask questions; you have to go, ‘Why does this seem to be happening more with this one particular team?’”

Communication

Beyond the specific comments about the three different areas of player conditioning, training and health, the reporters on the podcast said that, in a criticism that seems all too frequent in the Redskins organization, communication seemed to be an issue.

They said, among other things, that the people from different teams (eg. strength & conditioning staff and training staff) didn’t always seem to be “on the same page”, giving players different information, or working toward different recovery timelines. This was highlighted by John Keim adding that, in the past, he had seen the different departments work together closely, which made the current commentary even more disappointing for me to hear.

Beyond this, Keim, citing D.J. Swearinger, among others, said that an issue existed with “accountability”. His point was that the staff did not seem to be diligent in holding players accountable “to get their own treatment, because a lot of guys aren’t doing that.”

Keim, at one point cited a conversation he’d had with a player who had left the Redskins to play for a different team who had commented that the new team “had more ‘structure’ set up.”

Dan Snyder

Michael Phillips had a kind word for Dan Snyder on the podcast, saying, “You start at the top — Dan Snyder — a guy who’s cut big checks the last couple of year for a recovery center and additions to the building, so he’s not being negligent in that regard.”

As is so often the case, this paints a picture of Dan Snyder as an owner who wants to do the right thing. But in the next breath, Michael Phillips brought us back to the point we so often reach with Dan Snyder — that he can’t quite figure out how to accomplish the right thing:

“But, at the same time, something is going on here.”

”Once again, the team is embroiled in a controversy; you shouldn’t be having these conversations in June! Once again you’re having them, and it’s a distraction.”

Poor communication, weak accountability, different departments “not on the same page”?

I get the sense that I’ve heard this song before.

I’ve always loved the title of the movie, “A Few Good Men” because it was a reminder that the clusterfuck that occurred in the movie involving the death of a Marine at the hands of his own squad-mates and the prosecution and trial that followed was a result of everyone involved trying, individually, to do the right thing. Everyone involved had his own code, and everyone involved thought he was on the side of the angels.

I don’t believe that anyone involved in the Redskins player conditioning, training, or health care is a nefarious evil-doer intent on causing harm. I suspect that each person in the building, like the fictional characters in A Few Good Men, is individually trying to do the right thing.

Probably everyone is diligently following his or her own code.

And that may be the root of the problem.

One gets the sense that, at Redskins Park, there are competing codes, poor communication, and lack of coordination. Left hand and right hand seem to lack awareness of one another, and, at times, appear to be working towards different ends. If that happens one time, it is a problem to be resolved, but when it crops up as an issue again and again, year after year across decades, then there’s really only one place to look — at the person who sets the tone for the organization — the one responsible for setting “the code” for everyone in the organization to follow.

What was it that Ted Mosby said about if you can’t spot the crazy person on the bus?

This issue that has surfaced with Trent Williams’ non-appearance at minicamp doesn’t appear to be something new that has cropped up suddenly out of the blue; it appears to be just the latest manifestation of the same old issue raising its ugly head in a different form. Same shit, different day.

Dan Snyder wants to do the right thing, but can’t figure out what the right thing is that needs doing. He can’t figure out that, metaphorically speaking, he’s the crazy person on the bus.

I’d like to think that, if I were the chief executive of the organization, I’d take the right action and have the underlying issues resolved (or at least well underway toward being resolved) by the end of the week. An organization like the Redskins needs leadership that is both strong and effective. The Redskins leadership may possibly have one of those traits, but I don’t think it has both. The front office executives seem unable to do more than respond to symptoms; they seem unable to recognize and cure the real and long-term underlying causes of the repeated issues that arise in the Redskins franchise.

Experience tells me that Bruce will try to put out the fire (or at least hide the smoke), Dan will hold a meeting followed by a well-intentioned but ultimately fruitless memo of admonishment, Jay Gruden will be left having to answer questions about things he has no control over, and it will be business as usual again at Redskins Park as soon as the headlines fade.

Until the next thing goes wrong.