THE ALIEN CULTURE OF ROBERT GRIFFIN III
Edit: This article was posted June 6th, but became even more relevant now with the Redskins announcing that, unlike in past years, RGIII will be available every time the team has media availability. This was officially announced today. We suspected this during OTAs but now the Redskins have made it official.
This has been an interesting week in the magnetic field surrounding Robert Griffin III.
As Wednesday’s OTA session drew to a close, Griffin–as usual–found himself surrounded by reporters. He’s the quarterback, after all, so there’s nothing surprising about that.
But for what it’s worth, there’s something happening here; what it is ain’t exactly clear.
Call it a subtle shift in the way the Redskins are handling their superstar quarterback. For the first two seasons of Griffin’s career, the media was simply not allowed near him.
That’s not to say that someone couldn’t casually saunter up to the general area of RG3’s locker after practice, and make an offhand comment about nothing in particular in Griffin’s general direction. Ha ha, jokes and stuff, quarterback smiles politely.
But if that same reporter tried to ask Robert real questions–football questions–in a locker room environment? Fahgettaboudit.
If you wanted to ask Robert Griffin III something, you had to save it for the podium. RG3 has held more press conferences than anyone else in the Washington area over the past two years. That Barack fella down the street has got nothing on him, although the two men could probably compare notes on that strange reality which exists for people who are constantly observed and protected.
No other Redskins player had ever been placed in this type of protective bubble, but it’s easy to understand why the organization handled him this way. In 2012 and 2013, the media descended upon on Robert Griffin III like a pack of hungry wolves after a fresh kill. It was too much for a young kid coming out of college – even for a charismatic, media savvy guy like Robert.
The Redskins were correct to protect.
ROBERT GRIFFIN III…IN PARKING LOTS AND PEDESTRIAN WALKWAYS?
After a light rain forced practice into the bubble on Thursday, May 29th, Robert Griffin III walked out into the parking lot near the huge flagpole that separates player parking from the media’s section.
It was game on.
At the time, I was snapping photos of Jordan Reed and Trent Murphy shaking hands and signing autographs with the huge military contingent who were on hand to watch practice. I remember looking over my shoulder and seeing a sight I had never seen before: Robert Griffin III surrounded by reporters, answering questions…outside.
Not at a podium. Not at a presser. Not at a table. Just RG3 kickin’ it with the media…like every other player.
It happened again on Wednesday. After grabbing a couple of interviews, I jogged up along the pedestrian walkway that runs along the back of the main building, because Robert Griffin III was at it again, surrounded by more media than were present at games back in George Allen’s era.
The only open spot was directly in back of #10, so I shimmied my way behind his left shoulder and started recording. A few late arriving reporters came up behind me and boxed me in, forcing me within a few uncomfortable inches of the Redskins’ franchise player. As RG3 deftly answered questions, he would occasionally talk with his arms and hands, and in the process, he inadvertently elbowed me a couple of times.
It was at that moment that I thought, “Well this is different. I would never have gotten this close last year. There’s been a conscious change.”
Where did this change come from? My guess is Jay Gruden.
NEW SHERIFF, NEW STYLE
If you close your eyes and listen to Jay Gruden talk, you can almost see the scrunched up caricature of his brother Jon in your mind’s eye. They both come heavily armed with a casual, direct style that instantly puts people at ease. I suspect they developed this personality trait to offset the stratospheric competitive fire that burns inside both men.
Even at this early stage, one thing is clear: Jay Gruden tells it like it is.
“[Robert Griffin III] is mature beyond his years”, Gruden said about his newest quarterback pupil, sounding like a protective father, at the OTA presser. Then came the verbal backhand slap. “He’s obviously got a lot more maturing to do”.
Ouch. But yeah. Obviously.
“About how he handles himself on and off the field”, Gruden continued, “I don’t think it’s going to be that big of an issue. It’s just a matter of how he handles the media scrutiny sometimes. He doesn’t like negative publicity…he wants everything to be right. He wants everyone to love Robert.”
Exactly: Robert wants everyone to love Robert. That, in a nutshell, is the heart of the misgivings we have all had about RG3. It seems like an obvious enough statement, but I cannot recall Mike Shanahan ever stating, so very plainly, what we were all thinking. And it needed to be said.
There were times when I got the feeling that Shanahan was actually intimidated by Robert Griffin III. It seems clear that Griffin stiff-armed Shanahan into letting him stay on the field in the playoff loss to Seattle, a decision that almost by itself caused My Way Mike to get fired from his second consecutive head coaching job.
Jay Gruden, on the other hand, strikes me as a man who, in the same situation, would have said “Sit your ass down, rookie. You’re done.”
Gruden knows that Griffin is perhaps a little too obsessed with his media image. He knows about the endless slogans, the leadership T-shirts, and the Twitter responses to those who criticize him. He understands how RG3’s competitive desire occasionally gives birth to petulance and narcissism. Making sure that RG3 is treated like every other player–inasmuch as that’s possible–is one crucial step to breaking down the holy facade.
THE EVOLUTION OF ROBERT GRIFFIN III
After the massive helping of humble pie that Griffin choked on in 2013, I think he himself understands the benefit of spotlight deflection.
“We got a new coach, we’ve got new additions”, said Griffin after practice on Thursday. “Whether it’s DeSean Jackson, Ryan Clark, [Jason] Hatcher, all these guys are here doing great things. The story lines don’t all lead back to me, and that’s fine.”
==> Listen to RG3’s comments after OTAs here:
It’s not all about Robert anymore – it can’t be if this team is to succeed.
And maybe, just maybe, Griffin can channel the negative publicity into positive motivation. Did you happen to catch the front page of NFL.com yesterday? In case you missed it, I took a screenshot for your viewing displeasure:
Hmmm…notice anyone missing? Robert Griffin III is no longer listed among the “bright young quarterbacks” in the NFL.
He’s become an afterthought. Many people assume he’s done, or at least destined to become relegated to Vince Young status: a once promising, athletic quarterback who couldn’t make the leap to greatness.
But take a look at that dude all the way to the right of the above photo. See him there? That’s the guy who took Robert Griffin III’s place in this discussion. RG3 was supposed to be there; instead we’ve got Andy Dalton. Andy Frickin Dalton!
Yet there’s good news here. You know why Andy Dalton is in that photo? Because JAY GRUDEN MADE ANDY DALTON. He squeezed every last bit of orange juice out of that marginally talented head.
Jay Gruden can make Robert Griffin III too – if Robert will let him.