The past twelve months for the Washington Redskins have been as bizarre as any for a professional sports team. Robert Griffin III has gone from questionable rookie-star, to world-beater, to injured, to being a diva for rushing back too quickly, to division champion, to symbol of Dan Snyder's incompetence, to the medical equivalent of learning a country's geography because we're bombing it, to cornball brother, to diva, to being Back, to a complete and utter indictment of Dan Snyder's decision to give up another fortune of draft picks. (Whew.)
Now we're back where we started; a Redskins team at 3-7 and playing for their jobs.
The team is basically an inferior version of the 2007-2010 Indianapolis Colts, but with a racist nickname. One good pass-rusher, a terrible secondary, Pierre Garcon, a good running back, and a superstar under center. It's a painfully average team that has found itself in the midst of a thousand stupid story-lines over the course of the last year, but the melodrama surrounding everything that Robert Griffin III says puts them all to shame.
As NFL fans, we really can't have nice things anymore. We live in a reality show world and Snooki sells tickets, sponsorships, advertisements, papers, and page views. We want train wrecks. We want controversies. If you don't have a controversy, we'll make one. But controversies in a vacuum don't mean a thing. They need to be attached to something relevant, and the Redskins weren't relevant for a 20-year span.
As a lifelong Redskins fan, I've admitted for years that the team's name is racist and should be changed, but it's hard to not see the irony in the fact that the debate remained relatively calm after the Supreme Court ruled that Native Americans "waited too long" to claim offense, but was roiling again when the Redskins became relevant in the past 18 months with the arrival of their franchise quarterback. This doesn't change the fact that the new outcry against the outdated name is valid, but it does speak to what we care about as a society. The Redskins aren't good; they're still relevant because they have their Snooki.
Robert Griffin III is as close as you'll get to a legitimate role model in modern athletics. From all accounts he's a genuinely nice guy who really just wants nothing more than to help his team win at any cost. He's an athletic freak on par with anyone in history. He has a work ethic that's been instilled in him since he was able to walk.
We should admire him for this. We did... when they were winning. His fumbles were being recovered for touchdowns instead of turnovers. Every designed run wasn't an indictment or vindication of the zone-read offense. You could actually enjoy the guy for his unheard of ability to outrun, out-throw, and out-think every other world class athlete on a football field.
From day one, he put himself in front of the media, smiling, shaking hands and dispensing the sort of trite motivational sayings more often heard in self-help seminars than NFL locker-rooms. The guy actually believed them. He seemed to be a genuinely positive, likable guy with great intentions. And now that he hasn't performed up to the ridiculous standard he set last year, we've all but torn him completely down all while managing to forget that he's 11 months removed from tearing his knee apart.
Despite what we've been conditioned to think, an ACL is still a ridiculously serious injury with career-threatening implications. Despite all the money and production value that's pumped into public perception about the modern NFL player being a mutant who can self-heal like a superhero by sleeping in a hyperbaric chamber and trusting the steady hand of a celebrity surgeon, an ACL tear still usually requires a two-year total recovery.
The fact that the Redskins have a capable, aw-shucks backup in Kirk Cousins is great in the event of an injury for one game, but having a somewhat capable backup QB has actually created more controversy than it has solved. That's how stupid this whole mess is: you'd almost rather have Grossman and Beck backing RGIII up for nothing else than just to avoid hearing the opinions of idiots.
To be fair, Griffin has put himself under the microscope given the endless sponsorships and documentaries, but does that really justify all the stupidity and hand-wringing that's come out over the past week? Now we're pretending that he's a selfish diva because he said that he was trying to throw the ball out of the back of the end-zone on a game ending interception. Saying that he "didn't want to take a sack" is throwing his line under the bus? The bell sounds and we're drooling all over ourselves, eager to spit out a reference to the time when Jimmy Clausen told Jon Gruden, "Yeah, I changed the route but he didn't see it. I didn't give him a clear enough signal." Somehow that was a QB blaming his WR? We're really comparing Jimmy Clausen to Robert Griffin III?
During Griffin's recovery you could sense that this avalanche was about to descend when Griffin started to indicate that he was ready before Shanahan thought he was. You could sense that a superstar athlete's desire to play was turning into a bad thing, as the media invented a rift with his coach.
NFL fans look to players as characters. Story-lines are plots that fit within our soap opera of what we think football should be.
"Oh man, Griffin got hurt? He's made of glass. You can't have a running QB!"
Our scandals are either based off of success -- like bountygate and spygate -- or because we've found a character that we can't believe fits into our little perfect mold of a good guy or evil-doer. The fact that Richie Incognito could be pulled from central casting as a bully helped the Dolphins' story go national.
The Redskins are and have been an average football team for the past year and a half. Their defense would be one of the worst in modern history were it not for DeAngelo Hall somehow scoring more TDs than their No. 2 receiver. Their offensive line is suspect, as is everyone else on the offense not named Alfred Morris or Pierre Garcon. Somehow we expect RGIII to cover up all of these deficiencies on his own. And when the team loses, we dissect his sentences for any trace of ego or blame.
The whole situation is reminiscent of another Redskins great: Sean Taylor. Sean was notoriously terse with the media. He didn't trust them. He thought their mission was to bring people down, and he was known around DC as a guy who would talk to a fan for half an hour at a gas station, but wouldn't give Jason La Canfora a sound bite.
Taylor might have figured out that scandal and tension generate revenue for TV shows, newspapers, talk radio, and websites. If you don't give them a scandal, they'll find one if you're good enough. For as big a blazing ball of talent as Sean Taylor was, we knew very little about him until after he died, when Colin Cowherd and Michael Wilbon went out of their way to prove that he was right all along.
The RGIII windmill of controversy is eerily similar to the political side of D.C., Every time a Republican or Democrat opens their mouth about anything, the public reads into it in a way that only strengthens their previously held beliefs of right and wrong. Voters have become less like decision-makers and more like fans.
That's what has happened to the Redskins and Robert Griffin III in a span of only twelve months.
The Redskins finally have a transcendent player that matters enough to serve as a litmus test/bug zapper for half-baked, strongly-held opinions about what should or should not be said in an interview with a reporter whose job it is to make the reader react to what was said.
Fans of the Redskins will find what they're looking for, everyone else outside their little bubble will too. People will pretend to know why Griffin is either great or terrible, and they'll do it based on a handful of media interactions with a 23-year-old who has just one and a half years of experience and one and a half legs to stand on.