To Play or Not To Play?

an image of Su'a Cravens
Su’a Cravens File Photo

On Monday September 17th, The Washington Redskins ended the season of Su’a Cravens, the talented hybrid defender penciled in as the Starting Strong Safety to open the year.  Now there are a host of questions (by everyone) surrounding this situation.  And let’s face facts here; it is an unusual set of circumstances for such a (perceived) key player to find himself in.  That being said, the natural reaction by fans, casual observers, reporters, teammates – hell, everyone – is “what the hell’s going on here?”

Good question.  Let’s see if we can figure that out.

For starters, it is important to note that Cravens has showed signs of a lack of desire to play football in college.  There was talk that he had contemplated putting football on the shelf a time or two during his USC days.  And coincidentally, these moods consistently dovetailed with injuries he’d sustained while playing.  Interestingly enough, he is on record as not fearing the CTE issues linked to playing football (that is dogging The League currently).

Umm, really?  Yeah.  Really.

In fact, these are his comments at the time:

I know I am going into a game where I am going to hit and sometimes you are going to use your head to hit and you might get a concussion, that’s what we signed up for…

I saw the NFL passed that they aren’t going to be paying any more lawsuits on CTE from now on, so in that case, let’s take helmet-to-helmet penalties out.

If we know what we are signing up for, let’s play. That’s how I look at it. I mean I like to play ball.

Isn’t that interesting?

And these quotes are from an L.A. Times report form March 23, 2016.

Fine.  The dude ain’t scared of head trauma.  That’s admirable.   So if that isn’t it, then what is it?

I think this excellent Washington Post article by Mike Jones does shed light on the whole affair.

However,  can any of us really know what’s going on in someone else’s head?  All any of us have to go on is an individual’s behavior and his public statements.

And in that regard, after Su’a surprised The Team with his announcement (following the Preseason), here is his Snapchat post revealing his thought process:

As far as I know, that is his last public statement on any of this.

To its credit, The Redskins showed compassion and understanding towards the young man.  Of course fans were pissed (and many still are), but there’s more to this situation than meets the eye.

In that Washington Post piece I referenced earlier, according to Jones, Cravens may be dealing with some mental health and family issues.  That makes this situation far more serious than just not wanting to play football.

But apparently, Su’a does wanna play ball.  At least that’s what has been reported recently.  And with that knowledge, The Skins sat him down for the year.  Washington placed him on the Reserve/Left Squad list.

Understandably, The Team doesn’t want this should-I-stay-or-should-I-go drama to play itself out during such a crucial season.  Not to mention there are also reports out there that Redskins Park wasn’t buying his stated desire to return.  Therefore, they gave the Cravens a year to figure it out (while still having access to professional help).

WoW.  That’s a lot, isn’t it?

Here’s my view:

Speaking as a longtime fan, this whole deal stinks.  First, let’s address the obvious: this is a blow to the team because the kid can play ball.  From a football perspective, Cravens was counted on to be a key contributor to The Defense in a quasi rover role.  That would’ve been interesting to watch play out.  But his deactivation makes all that academic now.

As a fan, I’m aggravated because his timing was terrible.  He really screwed The Team with his decision, because Safety has been a key area of weakness for years now.  In football terms, if he didn’t think he could hack it, then give Ashburn a heads up with some notice.  Had this have happened in The Offseason there would have been ample opportunity for The Skins Front Office to come up with a stopgap solution.  I think that’s what bothers the casual supporter most.

On the other hand, we’re talking about a real live person here.  To most fans, Players are no more than chess pieces.  We read & see the injury reports all the time – this Fullback has cracked ribs, that Center has a bruised sternum, the star Linebacker’s having back spasms.  Truth is, there are injuries that Players are expected to play through & others that shelve guys for a specific range of time.  And we as fans got this stuff down to a science.


But in the real world, if you woke up with back spasms or tore your rotator cuff, odds are this sort of injury can be a life changing event.  Or at minimum, wreck your year too.  And NFL Players deal with these afflictions all the time.  In fact, this Sunday there’s a virtual certainty there will be a few dozen injuries of this nature during games.  That reality is accepted by everyone.  In that light you can’t blame a young man for thinking about his health.

Thing is, if you did fuck up your rotator cuff, wouldn’t you place a priority on your immediate and long term health too?  And let’s be honest: it’s hard for you or me to hold it against any man that wants to preserve his physical health.  So if staying healthy is truly a man’s goal, then playing Pro Football is incompatible with that goal.

Most reasonable people understand that.  But what if it’s something else?  Does it diminish his decision in the slightest?

I say the answer is no.  I acknowledge that Washington can use his services, especially with two of the current Safties hurting.  However, the bottom line is that it’s his life.  His prerogative.  The rub lies in the fact that a talented young man that several teams wanted doesn’t want to play himself.

And whether he plays or not, may he get himself together.

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