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Keith Strudler: The Rise And Fall Of RG3

The Washington NFL organization can finally rejoice that the public is talking about something besides their controversial name The Redskins. That’s the good news. The bad news is, that dialogue has been replaced with controversy on benching their beleaguered quarterback Robert Griffin III, or RG3. Two years ago as a rookie out of Baylor, Griffin was hailed the NFL prototype, a mobile quarterback that could create havoc by air or by land, stretching defenses and making the narrow confines of the 100 yard field feel much more spacious.

That was then, and this is now for Griffin, who’s struggled to come anywhere near his first year’s efficiency. Some of that has come from repeated injury – either through contact or simply overuse. Where Griffin was ones a shot gun in a shoe box, now he’s more like a hamster in a cage. Seemingly going nowhere, and easily ignored. And with that, Washington first year head coach Jay Gruden this week benched Griffin, and replaced him with relative NFL journeyman Colt McCoy, which two years ago would have sounded like turning down Dom Perignon for some Andre Cold Duck. But that’s the state of affairs in Washington, where the football franchise is just as dysfunctional as the federal government down the street.

What’s seemingly at the core of Griffin’s discontent isn’t simply his play, but rather his uncomfortable relationship with his head coaches. Both Gruden and previous coach Mike Shanahan have critiqued RG3, openly and backhandedly, for what they perceive to be bad judgment, poor effort, and, for lack of a better word, selfishness. In the ultimate team game, that critique doesn’t win you a lot of fans, much less a starting position.

Interestingly, this assessment is quite similar to the controversial scouting report that followed Griffin into the 2012 NFL draft, a report that said he has “a bit of a selfish streak.” And that “he doesn’t treat anybody good.” It was rhetoric similar to that for 2011 NFL draft pick Cam Newton, who battled character attacks throughout the evaluation process, and beyond for that matter. Oddly enough, Newton, who brought far more strikes with him to the league, has also far outshined Griffin.

It’s impossible to know, from the outside, the extent to which the critique of Griffin is fair, and how much is simply character assassination. In the NFL, who you are and how you perform often becomes a hazy mess, where a scoreboard becomes the sole arbiter of character and content. So, from all our amateur perspectives, it’s tough to know whether RG3 just isn’t that good, or if isn’t that nice as well. All we can know right now is that one of the league’s most promising rookies, and a breakout college star, a Heisman Trophy winner with possible character question marks, is now having to win back a starting position from someone who’s often compared to Tim Tebow.

But Griffin’s tale may be a cautionary one. Right now, NFL teams are collectively considering the future of Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston, who’s also won a Heisman and has come to define the concept of character issue. At worst, Winston has narrowly and some might say illicitly avoided rape charges while also compiling a host of other offenses, including shoplifting. At best, he’s displayed enormous and consistent poor judgment despite repeated warning. And teams, several who will be desperate for a franchise quarterback this off-season, will have to contemplate whether or not to draft him. Some may pass, but it’s unlikely that Jacksonville or Tampa Bay or the Jets could pass that opportunity to pick clearly the top quarterback in this year’s potential class, assuming Winston does enter this year’s draft. And from there, who knows.

Don’t take this commentary as a righteous rant on the value of virtue. And don’t think I don’t realize that teams use words like character to serve their own needs. Saturday’s saint is Monday’s sinner, especially when he threw four picks in the Sunday between. But know this. Surviving as an NFL quarterback takes far more than talent and luck – although it does take a whole lot of that. It’s more like walking a tightrope, where anything, from your arm to your mouth, can knock you down. RG3, once a man with Velcro shoes, has fallen fast. And it’s not so certain he’ll get back up. For now at least, that’s the most bizarre thing about that football team from Washington.

Keith Strudler is the director of the Marist College Center for Sports Communication and an associate professor of communication. You can follow him on twitter at @KeithStrudler


The views expressed by commentators are solely those of the authors. They do not necessarily reflect the views of this station or its management.

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