There are plenty of professional athletes who feel that they aren’t treated properly by a team they played for.
More often than not, though, there are two sides to the story.
And that may just be the case with this recently retired quarterback, who believes his former team “patronized” him during his comeback from a gruesome injury.
In November 2018, during a week 11 game against the Houston Texans, Washington quarterback Alex Smith suffered one of the worst lower body injuries in NFL history.
Smith suffered a compound fracture of his tibia and fibula that required numerous surgeries, and led to an infection that almost cost him his leg and his life.
For a while, it wasn’t known if Smith would ever be able to use his leg the same way again, much less ever play another NFL game.
But somehow, he ended up not only playing again, but ended up being a crucial part of Washington’s 2020 playoff run, compiling a remarkable 5-1 record as the team’s starter and helping the team win the NFL East title.
After the season, Smith was named the NFL’s Comeback Player Of The Year, but was ultimately cut by Washington and has been open about his displeasure with how the team handled his comeback.
In a recent interview with Sports Illustrated, Smith said the coaches “patronized” him by making him do extra tasks prior to the 2020 season, like carrying extra weight and pushing sleds, things he says he’d never been required to do previously in his NFL career.
Doctors had cleared Smith to return to play, but the Washington coaches apparently needed to know for sure that he was still capable of performing at a high enough level.
“I’d rather have somebody right in my face say, ‘What are you thinking?’” Smith said. “It pissed me off.”
Dr. Robin West, the Washington Redskins former doctor told SI that coaches would routinely ask, “Are you sure you’re clearing him?”
“I got very little support,” West said.
West also said that coaches would bring up that doctors said Smith had almost died and lost his leg, and would ask, “Why would he want to (play)?”
“That’s not your decision,” West claimed she responded.
Smith’s father, Doug, went even further than his son in his criticism of the Washington coaches, telling SI that they “sabotaged” his son’s comeback.
But Washington head coach Ron Rivera has a different view of how everything went down, and said in a statement that he “was scared to death about putting (Alex) back out there.”
“That is something I struggled with every day,” Rivera admitted. “It’s unfortunate that he feels we patronized him because I can tell you that was not our intention.”
“At the end of the day, I commend Alex because he proved everyone wrong and exceeded any reasonable expectations that anyone had set for him,” Rivera continued. “He not only made it back onto the field but led us to the playoffs. It was a truly remarkable feat.”
It’s easy to see how a competitor like Alex Smith could become frustrated in such a situation.
He had overcome so much to be able to play football again, fighting everyday for two years to ensure that he went on his own terms, only to feel like the coaches didn’t want him to complete the comeback he worked so hard for.
However, based on how he describes the situation and Ron Rivera’s comments, it’s hard to see how he was “patronized.”
It’s one thing for doctors to say that Smith has recovered well enough to play again, but it’s a whole other thing for Smith to still be capable of playing at a high enough level for coaches to put him back on the field.
If the coaches weren’t sure that Smith still had enough mobility to avoid being destroyed by 300-pound NFL defensive linemen, putting him on the field could have put him, and the team’s success, at risk, and any other injuries Smith would have sustained as a result would have been blamed on the coaches.
We hear the media argue all the time that coaches should step in and stop an injured player from going back onto the field before they’re ready because their inner competitor pushes them to put themselves at more risk, and this situation is no different.
Of course Alex Smith was going to say he could play and wanted to play – he’s a competitor and he wanted nothing more than to compete, even if it may have been a risk.
But coaches, especially in today’s world, have to be sure that a player isn’t putting himself in more danger because of his desire to compete.
It’s unfortunate that Smith and his family feels he was “patronized” and “sabotaged,” but ultimately, Ron Rivera and the Washington staff were just doing their jobs.
And they should be applauded for that, not demonized.
Sports with Balls will keep you up-to-date on any developments to this ongoing story.