Robert Griffin III, the Washington Redskins sensational rookie quarterback, had no business playing football in last week’s playoff game against the Seattle Seahawks.

I know it. Fans know it. And Mike Shanahan, the stone-faced coach of the Redskins, ought to know it, too.

It was clear that Shanahan should have pulled Griffin off the field the moment his 22-year-old prodigy started limping out of the huddle and cringing from obvious pain in his right knee. But he didn’t. Shanahan allowed Griffin to stay in the game, hobbling left, and hobbling right, all for the sake of winning. The Redskins lost 24-14.

Shanahan waited until he had no choice: When Griffin’s leg twisted grotesquely on the turf and he fell to the ground in agony, the 84,000-plus fans looking on at Fed-Ex Field knew Griffin was done for the day.

And now Shanahan is paying the price for his ill-advised decision: Griffin will need to undergo surgery in the days ahead to repair damage to ligaments in his right knee. The Redskins’ worst fears have become a reality – RG3 will be out for months recuperating and dealing with extensive therapy.

So was it really worth it to keep Griffin on the field Sunday? And did Shanahan jeopardize Griffin’s future as an NFL quarterback? The executive director of the NFL Players Association said Tuesday that the union is reviewing how Shanahan and the Redskins managed Griffin’s injury — a good move. Maybe now we can get some honest information out of Redskins Park.

In a post-game news conference, Shanahan insisted that he would never put Griffin in harm’s way. He said he asked Griffin if he was good to go, and Griffin said yes.

What did Shanahan expect Griffin to say? He’s young, he’s playing in his first NFL playoff game, he’s pumped up like never before – and he desperately wants to win. So in that critical moment on the sidelines, with thousands of fans chanting “RGIII!, RGIII,!” Griffin can’t be trusted to make the decision for himself – that’s why there are coaches in place. That’s why there’s management.

“Our medical staff said he was fine to play,” Shanahan told reporters. “Checked with the doctors and asked them their opinion if we would be hampering his LCL if we did play him or was he in good enough shape to go into the game and play at the level that we need for him to win. We would not play Robert if we thought there was a risk of him further injuring that LCL.”

But it turns out the Redskins were very concerned – privately. James Andrews, the Redskins team doctor, told USA Today that he was “scared to death” about Griffin playing on an injured knee. If Andrews was worried, why was Shanahan okay with sending Griffin onto the field with a knee that could buckle at any moment?

Shanahan failed Griffin when Griffin needed his coach’s counsel most. My Aunt Jean, a wise woman and longtime Redskins fan, observed correctly that Griffin must start protecting himself and deciding when enough is enough. In short, my aunt said, RG3 must become his own best advocate.

“The emotional need of wanting to play and being a star always overtakes making a good decision,” Sharon Stoll, a sports ethics professor at the University of Idaho, told The Washington Post. “You’d like to think an athlete as intelligent as Robert Griffin III would be able to make that decision. But your humanness prevents you from making that decision. That’s why you need a community of medical authorities to step in and say, ‘No, you’re not [playing].’ The athletes themselves, they can’t do it. There’s too much emotional tie-in.”

I admire RGIII. I admire his commitment to the game, his courage to play through pain, and his fierce competitive edge. He’s a phenomenal athlete. But Griffin should also shoulder some of the responsibility for his health. He has to play smart football if he’s going to last in one of the most violent sports on earth.

RGIII is the Redskins franchise. He’s the team captain, the face of the Redskins, and owner Dan Synder is spending millions of dollars on Griffin in hopes of winning more division titles and even a Super Bowl – but only if Griffin stays healthy.

Which is why there are two precarious questions being whispered among the most loyal Redskins fans: How long can Griffin last? And can he return to the field in top physical condition?

Perhaps those are questions for Shanahan.

“He wants the team to win at all costs,” Tom Joyner, the syndicated radio host of “The Tom Joyner Morning Show,” said on the program this week. “But somebody is responsible — and that should be Mike Shanahan…he’s gonna get the boy killed.”

In the meantime, RGIII should do some soul-searching in the off season. Last week, Griffin told reporters that as the leader of the Redskins he needed to be on the field against the Seahawks. “I’m the best option,” he said with authority.

I appreciate RGIII’s young warrior mentality, but sometimes true leadership boils down to this: Deciding when it’s time to bench yourself for the good of the team.

(Photo: AP)

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