“He wants everybody to love Robert, and that’s not going to be the case at the quarterback position.”
That was Redskins head coach Jay Gruden earlier this offseason talking about his quarterback, Robert Griffin III. And with yet another one of Griffin’s social media posts making national headlines, the quote makes entirely too much sense.
Following the Redskins preseason game against the Cleveland Browns last Monday night, Griffin posted to his Twitter account, informing fans that he’ll continue to work on getting down at the end of runs and avoiding those big hits.
Just want y’all to know I will keep working on getting down and not take those bigs hits. Got it right the third time
— Robert Griffin III (@RGIII) August 19, 2014
Griffin was referring to the game that happened just a few hours prior, where he’d scramble from the pocket looking to make a play, only to finish it with an awkward leg-bending slide, or simply hurling his body into a group of defenders like a pinball and hoping his head remained intact.
Over the next day or so, fans poured in, sending Griffin simple responses — some good, some bad, some praise, and lots of criticism (apparently).
That’s the way social media works. But that’s not necessarily the way Griffin would like his social media to work. The feedback sparked the quarterback’s emotions, leading him to address the reaction he received with (yeah) another tweet.
They doubted in High School They doubted a turnaround at @Baylor They doubted a Heisman was possible Keep doubting. It’s nothing New.
— Robert Griffin III (@RGIII) August 20, 2014
This isn’t anything new with Griffin, either. We’ve seen similar actions from the quarterback before. We used to say he was young and maturing as a professional athlete, but at 24 years old and entering his third NFL season, that excuse has almost completely fallen by the wayside. It’s now a question of whether Griffin has the skin thick enough to survive a highly-critical fan base — or what some may refer to as “doubters”.
Local radio shows field callers with questions like, “Why is this guy so insecure?”, “Why is he so worried about what a few couch quarterbacks have to say?” and “If this dude is so sensitive on social media, how’s he going to be a successful NFL quarterback?” All valid points.
I’m a Redskins fan, which means Griffin has my unwavering support. As is the case with any player on my hometown team — keep your nose clean off the field, work hard, and I’m as loyal as they come. I appreciate Griffin’s competitiveness, I admire his athleticism, and I firmly believe he has what it takes to be a really good NFL quarterback. But fanboy I am not. Despite his cannon for an arm, his track-star speed, and his franchise smile, I recognize the flaws.
Michael Jordan was one of many athletes, both past and present, that had the unique ability to internalize and produce. Even as the greatest basketball player in the world, Jordan wasn’t foreign to criticism, negativity or hate. The difference with him, however, is that he received it, stored it, and then used it the following game, helping his team win while carving out a double-digit streak of triple-double performances.
That’s not to say Griffin is on the level of Jordan, of course. Or that he ever will be, for that matter. But for the sake of argument, here’s Jordan — undeniably one of the best to ever do it — still drawing rude responses from tons of basketball fans.
The glaring difference between the sports world of today and the sports world of when Jordan played — for all intents and purposes — is social media. Although we’d like to think Jordan wasn’t the type to take to Facebook and put his haters on alert that he was about to drop 69 points — perhaps he would have if the platform was available? Jordan certainly didn’t lack the confidence to trash talk, but would that really be his style — to talk his stuff away from the hardwood and behind a keyboard?
Again, the point here isn’t to compare Griffin and Jordan as players, or to argue who left what kind of mark on what game, or even to discuss the accessibility of today’s modern athlete. The point is to compare their professionalism. Jordan was the greatest — you either loved him, or loved to hate him. He didn’t feed in to the bullshit and he let his game do the talking.
What if the Redskins hadn’t traded with the St. Louis Rams in 2012 in order to move up in the draft and land Robert Griffin III with the No. 2-overall pick? What if instead, the Redskins stayed put and somehow felt confident Griffin would fall into their lap at No. 6, all while not having to spend another couple of future first-round picks in the process?
There was an obvious market for the Heisman Trophy winner, so unlikely scenario, yes. Point is, the Redskins paid a lot to draft Griffin — a king’s ransom in most opinions.
The Redskins didn’t necessarily make the wrong move in setting their sights on a quarterback they fancy in a pass-driven league and using the ammo they had to go up and get him. But the cost to do so was public. Both Washington fans and Washington haters alike saw what the team paid to move up, in turn increasing the expectations of the almighty RG3.
And at first, he delivered. Griffin led an incredibly entertaining Redskins offense to their first playoff appearance in forever, earning Rookie of the Year honors along the way, and thus increasing the hype.
An ACL repair and one disappointing sophomore campaign later, and football fans are here to question whether Griffin is good enough.
Thing is, a majority of fans have very little patience for the way an injury effects a player’s performance, and even less regarding a player’s recovery. Fans don’t care that Griffin’s 2013 campaign was more about the marred relationship between he and his head coach, a bulky knee brace, or getting comfortable stepping into his throws despite the fear of a 300-pound lineman falling at his recently-reconstructed knee. By and large, that’s not how sports fans operate.
Recency bias is a real thing, and football fans have it. When Griffin struggled throughout 2013 with nearly every part of his game, fans didn’t think back to 2012 and further understand Griffin’s rush recovery from a brutal injury. They looked back at 2012 and assumed it was a fluke. And perhaps even more so, they remembered back to April 2012 when the Redskins traded the farm to move up and draft this guy who maybe isn’t all that good after all.
I’d be willing to bet those guys and gals make up a large part of the “doubters” crowd.
The Marketable Athlete
Adidas. Subway. Gatorade. Nissan. EA Sports. Castrol Motor Oil?
Even if you’re not a sports fan, catching a bit of television over the past few years means you’ve probably seen RG3. He has hefty endorsement deals with everyone from sandwich conglomerates, to automobile manufacturers, to engine oil producers. He’s out there.
Marketable athletes who crave the limelight and welcome the attention with open arms are doing so to 1.) increase their popularity and, as a result 2.) benefit financially. Griffin is no exception. But with an increased presence, more exposure, and added appearances, Griffin’s not only upping his recognition, but also expanding the crowd that dislikes him, hates him, and in some cases, despises him.
We’re all guilty of it, right? Sometimes people in the media annoy us. While some people love Charles Barkley and his commentary, other’s loathe the overweight bald guy with the goofy Southern drawl. As much as some people enjoyed Peyton Manning chanting, “Chop. That. Meat” in those brilliant Visa commercials, others found him to be the biggest goob on the planet and couldn’t stand the size of his forehead.
So yes, as Griffin’s popularity grows, so does his following; and a larger following then provides the chance for an even larger group to dislike you. It comes with the territory.
Remember that cliche saying involving having your cake and eating it too? Yeah, that applies here. Griffin can’t expect to put himself smack dab in the middle of the brightest lights and expect everyone to like him.
Every time Griffin takes to Facebook, every time he spawns a new hashtag, every time he’s featured in a bad ass ad that has him looking like a centaur in an Adidas shirt and chucking footballs, the pressure mounts for RG3 the superstar.
And that’s before the natural pressure.
The natural pressure is that of being a professional athlete. But not just any professional athlete — the professional athlete playing the most popular position in the nation’s most popular sport for the one of the world’s most popular sport franchises. Tough stuff.
Yet Griffin doesn’t stop. And maybe it has something to do with the mindless competitiveness that’s ingrained in him as not only an athlete, but also as a person. Perhaps he’s just as competitive in the field of endorsements and wanting to be popular as he is on the actual field of play.
Not a flaw in itself really, but a trait that can make things tough. Especially when moving at the rate of which Griffin’s career did — from dynamic Heisman Trophy winner to poster boy NFL Rookie of the Year.
Celebrity status is also a natural occurrence — a simple example being a guy like Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson who was drafted in the middle rounds, fought for the starting quarterback job, and wound up winning a Lombardi trophy. That sort of thing will make you popular whether you like it or not. Pressure certainly builds, but it’s because you set your bar by way of doing your job very, very well.
The difference in Griffin’s case, however, is that when you seek that celebrity status, you’re putting the pressure on yourself. You’re setting your bar based off words and (in this case) tweets. It’s not the natural sort of celebrity. You’re raising the expectations of yourself and people will try their hardest to hold you to it.
It’s obviously a lot easier for me to say considering I’m sitting behind a computer screen and very much not a professional athlete. But my word of wisdom in this case would be something along the lines of: playing quarterback in the NFL is hard enough by itself that you don’t need to invite the unnecessary weight and place it on your own shoulders.
Getting a Rise
Griffin may be incredibly fast, but he’ll never be able to outrun the trolls.
Internet trolls. They’re as real as you and I. I have no idea if they fit a certain description, but I’d assume they’re like the aliens from the Men in Black movies (I only saw the first one) with the ability to easily blend in with the crowd, ultimately infiltrating and walking among our sweet and ever-so-friendly population.
I also don’t know how they operate, or what their theory on life is, or how one grows up to be an internet troll. But I do know one thing — I know that they feed off response. I assumed Griffin would know this too.
The key, though, is that trolls don’t necessarily die if you don’t feed them. They still come around, they’ll still shoot you evil messages, call your wife ugly, criticize the way you do your job, send crude pictures, etc. But not feeding them helps you in more ways than one. And who knows — maybe after a while of not throwing out the bait, the trolls get bored, take the hint, and stop coming around.
Trolls hit up Griffin on social media because they know they’ll get a
response rise out of him.
Again, it’s a mystery as to how anyone gets off on stuff like that, but
people trolls do. Just gotta let ‘em be.
If Griffin really wants to silence the doubters, he needs to do so without saying anything. Otherwise, and until then, calling out the “doubters” with words as lame as their own won’t do anything but fuel the fire that apparently really, really pulls at him.
Like the head coach said, not everyone’s going to love Robert. But if he plays ball and plays it well, the other stuff he craves will naturally fall into place.