- The Washington Times - Monday, August 29, 2022

ASHBURN — Just before his players went to another drill during Monday’s practice, Washington Commanders running backs coach Randy Jordan gathered his group on the field for a brief huddle. This was out of the ordinary, but understandable given the circumstances: Not even a full 24 hours earlier, one of their own — rookie Brian Robinson Jr. — had been shot twice on the streets of the District and was hospitalized with non-life-threatening injuries. 

Jordan told the backs to take advantage of the day. Even then, it must have been hard to focus on the task at hand. 

“It’s a wake-up call to everybody,” quarterback Carson Wentz said. “There are real-life problems out in this world.”

Fortunately for the Commanders, and the running back, Robinson seems to be OK. 

Coach Ron Rivera said Monday that the 23-year-old is “doing well” as he recovers from gunshot wounds after being the victim of what the team has said was an attempted robbery or carjacking. Robinson posted on social media that he had surgery that “went well” and was thankful for the support.

The coach and a contingent of team officials — including owner Dan Snyder — visited Robinson at the hospital Sunday, where the rookie was in a “really good place,” Rivera said. 

“The doctors were very positive with him and he was very positive, as well,” said Rivera, who called it a “relief” that the running back’s injuries weren’t worse. “We were very fortunate. He was very fortunate. It was a very unfortunate situation. … It’ll be a matter of time before he’s back out here. There is no timeline, but as I said, everything was very positive.” 

Additional details also emerged Monday about the shooting.

District Police Chief Robert J. Contee said in a press conference that there was a scuffle between Robinson and the two suspects in which the rookie wrestled a firearm away from one man before the other shot the running back. The shooting occurred in late afternoon, just before 6 p.m., in the 1000 block of H Street NE, with Robinson leaving Crab Boss near Ben Chili’s Bowl. 

A District Police spokesperson added the gunshot wounds were located in Robinson’s leg and hip, while a public incident report indicated the firearm used was a Glock 43x — a nine-millimeter handgun. The two suspects, described as Black teenagers with shoulder-length dreads, are still at large.

The public incident report indicated that a pair of car keys were stolen as well, though a spokesperson said Robinson’s car remained at the scene until it was towed away for evidence collection. A vehicle connected to one of the suspects was located in Hyattsville, Maryland. 

Rivera and the Commanders were blindsided when they learned of the news. Defensive lineman Jonathan Allen first heard about the incident from his brother and promptly checked social media to find more details. Wentz learned of it from a group chat with the team’s offensive linemen. 

Coincidentally, the coach was reviewing Robinson’s game film with Jordan on getting the call. Jordan, he said, was particularly hit hard, asking if Robinson was going to be OK. From there, Rivera went down to general manager Martin Mayhew’s office and roped in head of security Mike Jacob.

But during the process, the coach recalled, Rivera not only felt concerned for Robinson’s health but also a mix of anger. He was angry over how gun violence has become a “nationwide epidemic.” As he said this, Rivera dawned an orange shirt that aimed to further raise awareness for the issue. 

The coach had advocated for gun safety in the past — as recently as June — but this time, someone he knew was personally affected.

“We really gotta start getting to the point where we start talking about gun safety,” Rivera said. “We can’t make this a partisan issue. … It’s something that we need to work on and come together to be able to solve.”

In the meantime, football carries on. By now, the Commanders have arguably learned how to navigate between tragic events off the field and stay focused on their profession. After all, Rivera battled cancer throughout the 2020 season. And last year, players dealt with Deshazor Everett’s fatal car accident in which the former safety’s girlfriend was killed and the death of edge rusher Montez Sweat’s brother. 

Before practice, Rivera held a team meeting to reinforce that Robinson was in a good place and doctors were optimistic about his recovery. The coach, too, said he liked his players’ response, adding he felt like they had a productive session.

Still, the difference between the situations can be striking. In training camp, Robinson had seemingly played his way into a big role this coming season as he appeared poised to become the Commanders’ lead back. The rookie made a strong impression on teammates like wide receiver Terry McLaurin, who noted Robinson’s “infectious” personality and said he grew to mentor the running back after the Alabama product sat by him in meetings.

Now suddenly, the 23-year-old is in a hospital bed — with his football dreams on hold.

“Life is hard,” wide receiver Terry McLaurin said. “It really is. In our position, where … we play a kid’s game but get paid a lot of money and a lot of eyes and tension on us. People kind of forget that we are still human sometimes. 

“Things do affect us on and off the field.”

• Matthew Paras can be reached at mparas@washingtontimes.com.

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