Sally Jenkins’ new hit job on Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III comes a full week after Mike Shanahan was finally relieved of his duties. It’s the latest in a series of curiously timed leaks mean to destroy the character of a young man, who’s true crimes are still unknown.
When Robert was initially drafted, he was praised for his media savviness and his willingness to be honest and forthright, sometimes answering the same question back-to-back but always providing a fresh answer an addressing that person as though they were a friend.
By the end of 2013, RG3 had become as stilted, scripted and boring as any quarterback who had been humiliated by a false benching and attacked for weeks by anonymous sources leaked minutes before the game could be. The fan base that adored him on a remarkable playoff run seemed to turn, thinking he’d become an arrogant diva. And every leak seemed to validate that.
There were time when RG3 didn’t help. The 2013 offseason had many mistakes and gaffs from the quarterback.
It was clear that RG3 — a person who, again, seemed capable of wowing the media with his personality — was frustrated by his inability to talk to anyone about what happened on that terrible, January 2013 day, when he injured his ACL. The Redskins keep RGIII under tight lock and key; according to Mike Jones of the Washington Post, Kyle Shanahan would sit in the back of the room with a stopwatch during his rookie year, cutting the quarterback off after ten minutes. For much of the 2012 season, the beat writers (many of whom are amongst the best in the business) complained openly that they had zero access to the franchise player.
All requests to talk to RG3 are filtered through Redskins PR, who regularly deny request to talk to him. His pressers were short. Unlike other big name quarterbacks, he doesn’t have a weekly radio appearance or radio show in which he can express himself.
And so Griffin turned to other means to get his thoughts out. Unfortunately, 140 characters on Twitter do a piss poor job of conveying one’s message, and came off as vague, kind of immature rants. A text fired off to ESPN’s Trey Wingo did even more harm than good. He had a puff piece in ESPN the Magazine, wherein he didn’t seem to able to take responsibility for any role in what happened in the playoff game. (And was also in the form of a hokey letter to the president.)
And then there was his father, Robert Griffin Jr., loudly campaigning for Mike Shanahan to stop running his son into the ground and develop him into a passer. There was an ill-advised documentary/Gatorade commercial.
RG3 and Mike Shanahan seemed to trade barbs back and forth during training camp in vague back and forth quips. It seemed to reach it’s pinnacle when, asked about his rehabilitation timeline, RG3 finally said “I can’t B.S that answer. No, I don’t like it.”
In a way, RG3′s openness and honesty came back to bite him in the butt. The breathless coverage of his press conferences and the never ending talk about his relationship with Mike Shanahan drove loyal fans batty, and drove a narrative that he had become an egotist.
NFL Network’s Mike Silver suggested the young quarterback had an issue with the Redskins showing his bad plays in meeting rooms. “…at Baylor they didn’t put RG3′s bad plays up on the board in the meeting rooms. Sources familiar with the situation say they’ve asked the Redskins to do the same but they’ve refused to this point,” Silver said on Gameday Morning. (Baylor head coach Art Briles and former Baylor quarterback Nick Florence both refuted those claims). Silver also reported that Griffin seemed to be insecure about back-up quarterback Kirk Cousins, and that he’d openly expressed dissatisfaction with Mike Shanahan as head coach.
ESPN’s Dan Granziano then put out a report that Mike Shanahan had been ready to leave just prior to the Redskins playoff game versus Seattle in 2012. Shanahan’s gripe was a previously unreported cushy relationship with Redskins owner Daniel Snyder. During the 2012 season, Griffin and Snyder shared Thanksgiving Dinner. Then, after Kirk Cousins won versus the Browns, Shanahan took exception to Snyder allegedly not talking to the quarterback and sticking close to RG3. Snyder has also (allegedly) arranged for RG3′s wife Rebecca to have safe passage to and from away games. Those acts seemed to be enough to shake Shanahan to his very core and cause him to seriously think about quitting. (The Washington Post’s Mike Jones would later refute the claim that RG3 and Snyder were close, stating that they rarely talked in season.)
As early as October, Sally Jenkins had been writing that RGIII didn’t seem to know or understand that he needed to get better, and that Griffin had the owner on speed dial. She later openly campaigned for Shanahan — who had secured his 3rd double digit loss season in four years— to get another year to “de-esculate this management crisis”, again referencing a cozy relationship between ownership and the quarterback.
When Shanahan benched Griffin, Mike Silver reported that Shanahan felt he had to bench RGIII in order to maintain credibility with the team. (Back-up Kirk Cousins went 0-3 and finished his three starts completing 53% of his passes for 747 yards, 4 touchdowns, 5 INTs, a fumble, and a passer rating below 70.) ESPN’s Adam Schefter — a former Denver beat guy and co-writer of Shanahan’s autobiography — re-iterated that Mike was ready to quit, in large part because of the relationship. More leaks came still, this time about Robert Griffin III and his father openly campaigning for Art Briles. (Briles has re-affirmed his commitment to Baylor and the Redskins have not reached out to his as of now).
Then came more stories, about how Mike Shanahan wasn’t enamored with the quarterback, and was basically forced by ownership to trade picks to draft him. (This despite Shanahan having complete control over personnel written into his contract.)
And then today’s Sally Jenkins article. Even when on vacation in Hawaii, RGIII’s character is attacked.
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How, exactly, did the Robert Griffin III go from one of the most well liked athletes in sports to a primadonna diva hell bent on getting his coach fired while yucking it up with his owner? It is a troubling fall from grace, perpetrated by “anonymous” sources with an ax to grind.
It also plays on some long held stereotypes about African-American athletes. Generally, people get very up and arms when race is bought into these kind of discussions. But it’s hard to look at this situation and not compare it to the adversity Cam Newton faced in his second year. Newton had his own gaffes, missteps and misfires in press conferences, just as any young quarterback might. And yet Newton was flayed open for his mistakes, cast as a know-it-all, arrogant diva who needed to grow up.
As the Panthers started to win, Newton has been hyped as more mature, and more of a leader. But in an appearance on NFL AM, Greg Olsen said that was false, and that Newton has always been the same guy he’s always been. The only difference is winning.
Now Griffin, fresh off a 3-10 record, has been cast as the same, this time seemingly by his former head coach and his surrogates. And there are fans who have gladly accepted those reports, no matter how often credible sources refute these stories. There are fans and media personalities who insist that Griffin needs to be “humbled”, and should take a back seat to the rest of the team, staying in the background and not being a celebrity. He should sit quietly and idly while other people chose a head coach.
This despite quarterbacks like Matt Stafford and Jay Cutler sitting in on interviews with head coaches. This despite the fact that until this weekend, Ryan Tannehill and Andrew Luck both had their college offensive coordinators. Mike Sherman was fired in part because Tannehill “lost confidence” in him. Marc Trestmann got his job in part because of a previous relationship with Cutler.
But Griffin can’t even be involved in the decision whatsoever. He has to stay away. He needs to be humbled and out of the public eye. Even though Kirk was as ineffective as RG3, if not more so, the benching was good, because it’ll teach RG3 … something. Presumably about himself. Why is it that swagger and confidence is a necessary trait in certain quarterbacks, but it’s a negative in the case of guys like Griffin, Newton, and Colin Kaepernick?
Even removing the racial component, nothing about this deconstruction of Robert Griffin III makes sense. It seems clear that someone with a very clear agenda is trying to destroy RGIII’s reputation. But why? He had a bad season. Statistically, and particularly on film, most of the second year quarterbacks and Colin Kaepernick had down years.
They also had good (or at least opportune) defenses and solid special teams. Robert, coming of major knee surgery, had neither of those things. It was squarely on his shoulders to lift the franchise over that. Yes, the defense and special teams occasionally had good games which RGIII did not play well in. Occasionally. For the most part, when you go 3-13, it’s a team effort to fail.
And despite his “horrible season”, he still threw for 3,203 yards, 16 touchdowns and 12 interceptions with a respectable 82.2 passer rating. And despite claims otherwise, a lot of that production did not become in garbage time. In four of his last 6 games, he completed over 60% of his passes. 4 of those games were decided by a touchdown or less. Over that stretch he threw 7 touchdowns to 4 picks and completed 61.7% of his passes.
Silver’s insistence that RGIII was benched because of performance doesn’t hold water against those stats. He had a couple stinkers, but the team still had chances to win in most of those games. And in the Chiefs game, special teams and defense definitely handicapped the quarterback, even more so than the weather.
Nor does Jenkins’ insistence that RGIII’s cushy relationship with Snyder has given him an inflated ego. If Griffin were cavalier enough to brag to his teammates about the level of control he had over the team, why was Mike not immediately fired when RGIII was benched, perception be damned? Why did RGIII not exert the clear control he had to simply stop Kyle Shanahan from calling the read-option plays he wasn’t comfortable with.
If he was so insecure about Kirk Cousins, why would he not take his limited opportunities to speak with the media to bash on Cousins, especially since people seem hell bent on insinuating that’s in his character. Why was his former college coach, who Griffin Jr. and Griffin III both allegedly campaigned to Dan for, not hired the day after Baylor lost their bowl game, and why is he not one of the many head coaching interviews the team has scheduled?
And if Griffin were such a bad person who teammates despised, why would they not only vote him as team captain two years in a row, but also vote him as the team’s Ed Block Courage Award winner? Seems a funny way of showing your disgust, giving him a captaincy and then giving him an award for facing adversity, coming back from knee surgery.
Or, to put it shortly; If RGIII is half the supervillian he’s made out to be, he’s really bad at it.
It doesn’t seem enough to say he had a bad year, and made some mistakes. This is attempt not to cast him as a bad football player, but as a bad human being. It’s fueled by media and bought by gullible fans who have been hardened and jaded by years of losing seasons and mismanagement.
Love it or hate it (and some people loathe it), Robert Griffin III is the most important player on the Redskins. That may not jive with some people’s concept of “team”, but as the RGIII goes, the Redskins go as well. The Redskins gave up too much to give up on him. Every effort must be made to make him a better quarterback. And part of that is making this perception issue go away.
Part of it could be solved by letting Griffin defend himself. Even with Mike and Kyle gone, Redskins PR still keep a tight lid on the quarterback. If Tony Wylie and the Redskins would let RGIII speak with the beat writers, he could, finally, at long last, offer his own defense of what happened.
And he should be allowed to defend himself. He shouldn’t have to be quiet and appear “humbled” while “anonymous” sources impugn his character and dignity. The best orator of his own cause is Griffin, and his ability to genuinely engage with local reporters on a 1-on-1 level is an asset. To not use that asset, and wait around for ESPN the Magazine or Sports Illustrated or some other national publication or TV show to finally get access to him would do him a disservice, as it could easily be seen as more touting of his ego.
He also should be allowed to be be in interviews for the head coach. He should not be allowed to choose his own necessarily, but there will be no relationship more important than the one between the quarterback and the new head coach. Figuring out if the personalities and philosophies mesh now is better than figuring out if they miss 2 years from now.
The solution to this character assassination attempt is to let RGIII be himself, and then let everyone realize how crazy they are being for destroying the guy.
If not, you risk turning one of the most dynamic, entertaining players (on and off the field) into a boring puppet spewing the same tired lines that every quarterback does, and you risk souring Griffin on Washington in general.