The Character Assassination of Robert Griffin III; Part Deux

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Even in a seven minute press conference, most of which consisting of Robert Griffin III repeating the phrase “We’re focusing on San Francisco” nine times, the Redskins quarterback still has to deal with criticism like this.

 

 

 

 

 

In a press conference where the quarterback went out of his way to say nothing, even saying nothing was a miniature story. NFL Network spent half an hour talking about the press conference; seven minutes of talking about nothing, and then 23 minutes of NFL Network analyst scrambling to rehash things they’d already said. That doesn’t include the NFL AM segments during which NFL Network hyped a QB press conference during which nothing was said.

 

This is what Griffin’s career has boiled down to. Hype over a Wednesday press conference that every quarterback in the league has with no fanfare. The media praying that Griffin says something that can be a headline. A bunch of articles that gripe about how Griffin said nothing. This is the team Dan Snyder has wrought; not a football team. A punch line. An easy avenue for easy clicks. And RGIII at the center of a media storm in November. Again.

 

Drew Magary is right; Robert Griffin III is making everyone nuts. All of this started because after Sunday’s game, people jumped on his back for not taking responsibility and throwing his teammates under the bus. This particular quote stuck in everyone’s craw;

 

“It takes 11 men. It doesn’t take one guy, and that’s proven. If you want to look at the good teams in this league and the great quarterbacks, the Peytons and the Aaron Rodgers, those guys don’t play well if their guys don’t play well. They don’t.”

 

Taken at face value, that does seem like Griffin is refusing to take responsibility for his terrible game on Sunday. Removed from the context of the post-game presser, without the benefit of knowing the question, it looks bad. It’s a gold mine if a headline though.

 

But if one were to actually see the full post game presser, RGIII did nothing but except blame.

 

“All of the sacks are on me. Period. We’re 3-7, and everybody in this room knows that, and everybody in that locker room knows that. We can’t do what 3-7 football teams do. We can’t throw knives and stab each other in the back. I think we have good people in our locker room, men of God that are going to stick together and stay strong. So when you ask me that question, and I say all of the sacks are on me, it’s because I’m looking myself in the mirror and saying, I can do better.

 

 

I didn’t see the field as well as I would’ve liked to. We had turnovers. I can’t throw interceptions. We had false start penalties and holding penalties. It was just bad ball out there today. It’s not that we looked past Tampa Bay because we can’t afford to look past anybody. The fact of the matter is we’re not a very good football team right now.”

 

 

And then comes the first quote. The one where people lost their minds. Here’s the full context.

 

Griffin was asked a question about the difference between his performance in 2012 compared to his performance now.

 

We were playing good team ball. It takes 11 men. It doesn’t take one guy, and that’s proven. If you want to look at the good teams in this league and the great quarterbacks, the Peytons and the Aaron Rodgers, those guys don’t play well if their guys don’t play well. They don’t. We need everybody. I need every one of those guys in that locker room, and I know they’re looking at me saying the same thing.

 

Griffin’s point wasn’t about throwing teammates under a bus. His point was in 2012, they made a better team effort. The defense was still terrible, but they caused more turnovers. The offense didn’t have as many turnovers. There weren’t so many bad penalties.

 

He was making a larger point about it taking a team effort to win games.

 

At best, you could say Griffin took a question about his personal performance and made it a more general statement about the team. But at no point did he bury the team. At no point did he refuse to take responsibility.

 

You wouldn’t know that judging by the reaction though.

 

Nate Scott from USA Today killed him. NFL.com Conor Orr criticized him. Dan Steinberg has the most thankless job in sports and collected even more hot takes. Shaun King said RGIII needs to look in a mirror, while making also implying he didn’t appreciate the opportunities he’s been given that other African-American quarterbacks haven’t been given. (Just in case having to pull the Washington Redskins kicking and screaming to relevance wasn’t enough, Griffin now has the weight of his race on him too.) Steve Young says he talked to “previous coaches” who said Griffin doesn’t work hard enough. (Mike Shanahan. He means Mike Shanahan.)

 

And then, just to add some unneeded fuel to the fire, head coach Jay Gruden jumped on the bandwagon to put down his QB.

 

“First of all, Robert needs to understand he needs to worry about himself, number one, and not everybody else,” Gruden said. “It’s his job to worry about his position, his footwork, his fundamentals, his reads, his progressions, his job at the quarterback position. It’s my job to worry about everybody else. Yes, everybody else needs to improve, there’s no question about it. It’s not his place. His place is to talk about himself. He knows that. He just elaborated a little too much. He’ll learn from it. He’s 24 years old.”

 

He went into explicit detail about much of what Griffin had done wrong versus Tampa. And he created even more headlines than RGIII had. While bashing Griffin for “elaborating too much”, Gruden opened his quarterback up for even more criticism. And was roundly praised by fans and media alike for his “tough love” approach.

 

On Wednesday, Gruden attempted to walk back his comments. “I think it was a mistake on my part,” Gruden said at his press conference Wednesday. “After a loss like that, we’re very disappointed in the way we played, and the question came up about how we played, and all that stuff from that. I just answered with the first thing that came to my mind, and sometimes the first thing that comes to your mind isn’t the smartest thing. It wasn’t the right thing to do on my part.”

 

This was a smart thing to say. The following wasn’t.

 

 

It’s hard to think of an athlete that’s been more heavily scrutinized and beaten up on a worse football team than Robert Griffin III. In 2012, the press drooled over him. Now, they seem to resent him in an almost personal sense.

 

He can’t win. He was criticized for being too frank. He’s been criticized for not being frank enough. And little of the criticism lobbed at him has been actually based in his poor play.

 

Griffin played poorly on Sunday. No one can deny that. He was inaccurate, seemed to be lost, and as the sacks and hits mounted, he played worse. But RGIII the quarterback has been separated from RGIII the headline grabber. His play is but a footnote in the endless articles that demean his character.

 

 

What happened is that his confidence has been shattered. On and off the field, Griffin isn’t the same guy who electrified the league. He’s not playing fast or loose, so afraid of making a mistake and dealing with the onslaught of negativity pointed in his direction. He has the quarterback version of the yips.

 

Every star player who comes to Washington goes through this meat grinder. Alex Ovechkin, John Wall, Steven Strasburg, Bryce Harper. But Griffin seems to take the slings and arrows personally.

 

That’s a problem he has to work on. He probably does need a thicker skin.

 

But on some level, his reaction to the criticism is justified. If the criticism he received was based on his level of play, then maybe the sling and arrows would be easier to suffer.

 

But much more of the criticism is centered around his personality. And those criticism harken back to the same ol’ tired cliches about African-American quarterbacks.

He can’t read a defense. He can’t understand the fundamentals of the game. He’s too arrogant. His ego is too big. He doesn’t work hard enough. He’s more concerned with being a celebrity than a football player. He’s talks too much. He talks too little. He alienates teammates. He doesn’t accept coaching. He’s not a leader. He relies too much on his athleticism. He can’t be a pocket passer.

 

People get bent out of shape when race factors into discussions life this. However subtly, you’d be hard pressed to find a white quarterback not named Jay Cutler that’s been scrutinized with those words. And you’d be harder pressed to find a black quarterback who hasn’t been.

 

Griffin often shoulders all the blame for the team’s failings. Some of that is the nature of the position. Some quarterbacks get more blame than deserved and more credit than earned. But with him, it seems even more so.

He might have the same fundamental faults as someone like Colin Kaepernick. The difference is Kaepernick can have an awful day and his team can rally around him and carry him. Despite the job the Redskins do of always pretending they’re capable of greatness, the team is poor. Very poor. They’re incapable of helping and sometimes hinder even solid performances. (See: his game versus the Vikings.)

What’s the difference between Sam Bradford and Robert Griffin III? Both came into the league with a great deal of hype. Both won Offensive Rookies of the Year. Both have struggled with injuries, and have played on subpar teams with middling offensive lines. Both struggle to get the ball out of their hands and take unnecessary punishment because of it.

And yet analyst will bend over backwards to defend Bradford. He never has enough weapons. He never has a good team, or a good enough offensive coordinator, or front office. It never seems to be Bradford’s fault.

It’s always RGIII’s fault, though. The weight of expectation always falls on his shoulders.

It’d be funny if it wasn’t so absurd. Negative coverage of Griffin feels personal, as though he had done something to anger each person who writes or engages with him.

In 2012, Griffin electrified to NFL with absurd play and a magnetic personality. The media marveled at how cool he was with them, willing to answer any question, and give an eloquent and personalized answer. It’s weird that in just two seasons, the narrative has shifted.

Griffin is no longer that guy. Fans have ridiculed him for being too open. Media have twisted everything he says into a headline. The coach he idolized bashed him anonymously to demean him. The new coach bashed him in public. His confidence and swagger is gone. He’s overthinking everything, on and off the field.

RGIII was asked 24 questions. Only one was about Sunday’s upcoming game versus the Niners. Nine times he gave the same answer. The rest he answered only in vague platitudes and coach speak.

This is what two seasons of character assassination have wrought; RobotG3. No answers. No smile. Just a look of tiredness and defeat.

Congrats. He’s been broken. Here’s hoping people are happy with themselves.

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