Robert Griffin III: The First Post-Racial Quarterback in the NFL

Robert Griffin III, or RG3-sus, or Bobby Three Sticks has been a lightning rod for a depressed Washington Redskins fanbase this season. Having grown up in Virginia Beach, VA, Redskins Country as much as DC, I have seen this depression firsthand. The Redskins are known to many in the DMV area as the Kings of the Preseason. They have historically signed big-name free agents to massive contracts only to watch the team go 5-11. Even worse, the team has floundered in oppressively boring fashion. You never had the sense that the Redskins could score 27 points if they needed to. Just last season, the team scored more than 20 points in less than half their games (versus nine times in 13 games so far this season).

This is what makes RG3 so exciting. On any given play, Redskins fans believe they are a few seconds away from 7 points. Griffin runs a modified version of the Pistol offense that keeps defenses on their toes every play. The results speak for themselves. Behind Griffin and fellow rookie Alfred Morris, the Redskins have a top ten offense for the first time since World War II…or maybe it just feels that way.

There have been a million descriptions and comparisons of Griffin in print and on television. Tony Kornheiser invoked the most interesting one the other day on his radio show. In his description of Griffin and his impact on the DC area, he compared the rookie to Joe Namath. Each quarterback had a dynamism that extended beyond sports. Namath embodied swagger before it became an overused word in rap. Namath’s bold prediction that his team would upset the favored Baltimore Colts shook the sports landscape and helped legitimize the AFL at the time.

In the same way, RG3 has become the transcendent sports star that DC hasn’t had since…forever? With apologies to Brian Orakpo, Griffin has set himself apart as the celebrity and cultural icon — not just a sports star — that DC has never had. He is already the face for several national advertising campaigns. His charisma has won over everyone from his teammates (who named him captain as a rookie) and fawning media personalities, and he is showing he has the on-field talent to back up the hype.

What’s most interesting about Kornheiser’s description is that he did not make the same tired comparison between Griffin and “Black Quarterback X.” Throughout the history of the NFL, Black quarterbacks have been treated as a novelty, gimmick quarterbacks whose success will last only as long as it takes for defense to figure out their tricks.

The narratives change slightly, but they always follow a similar format and they are always dripping with coded racial language. Michael Vick was fast, but not accurate enough to ever be taken seriously, and too lazy to put in the work to grasp an NFL offense. Cam Newton is talented, but doesn’t have the mental makeup to lead his team to a championship. Donovan McNabb was a capable starter, but was also labeled a “company man” by Terrell Owens and didn’t have the poise to handle crunch time. And so on.

These generalizations are a byproduct of the systematic discrimination working against Black quarterbacks for decades. A recent example? Check out the list of the top “Pro Style” and “Dual Threat” quarterbacks in high school football. The dual threat description is often a tacit way of saying: “runs fast, but can’t throw” which shapes how these players are developed and the ceiling on their pro prospects.

This is why I find RG3 so fascinating. He is rising above the prototypical labels many before him have been given. Especially on the field, Griffin is breaking down this convention. Griffin has the second highest QB Rating, fifth highest completion percentage, and is tied for the fewest interceptions (four) among regular starters in the league. Put simply: Griffin is a hell of a quarterback. For the first time, you can say that about a Black quarterback without any qualifiers.

I’m not putting RG3 in the Hall of Fame just yet. I am saying that he is already a star that is redefining the way we look at Black quarterbacks. I usually hate this term, but I believe RG3 is the first post-racial quarterback in the NFL. This is huge for a sport that, in many ways, celebrates the ideologies of cavemen and relics.

What do you think about RG3’s rise to stardom? Has his coverage affected you the same way? Giants and Cowboys fans aside, are you rooting for Griffin? Does it have anything to do with race?

Hit the comments and tell me what you think!

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  • Larry

    The Warren Moon and Randall Cunningham fans will have something to say about this first post-racial thing, but RGIII is playing well this season. Mad props to Kyle Shannahan for bringing in an offense similar to one at Baylor so he can easily adapt.

    Steve Young described it best last week after a game when talking about RG3. The Redskins play design doesn't ask him to make a lot of tough throws (or many passing attempts relatively speaking) Combine that with how accurate he is and you see the results. Talented kid. Great scheme to help him adjust. Execution at a high level while making big plays. I hope he has continued success.

    • AfterMath

      I'd agree about Moon as he was the anti-running QB in most ways. I'd also add Doug Williams to that list. But not Randall. His problem was that he thrived on plays like the bootleg and while that can be buy him time, it also limits him to only half the field. Most other scrambling QBs have or had this same problem, especially ones that look to scramble first.

      I'd disagree with Steve regarding the "tough throws" part. I think its more of a combination of defenses having to account for being beat by either RG3 running or passing, and RG3 having pinpoint accuracy. A perfect example is the 4th and 10 play against the Giants. The whole D-Line thought it would be a run and they abandoned their passing lanes and were in pursuit, but since RG3 hadn't crossed the line of scrimmage, he had a chance to make a BEAUTIFUL pass to Logan Paulsen for the first down.
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      • Larry

        Nah, Young is on the money on his assertion. We’ll have to agree to disagree on that one. The scheme the Redskins run combined with RG3 being a formidable running threat makes it that much easier. This is a good thing, lol. I’ve watched a few of his games and I was thinking the same thing before I even heard Young say it. Simple outs, slants, etc. and Griffin throws a great deep ball to boot. I’m not saying he isn’t capable or hasn’t made any tough throws this year. I’m just saying he hasn’t been asked to much relatively speaking. Once again this is good, lol. I want things to be as easy as possible for my QB as he continues to get better and learn.

  • Peter Parker

    As a current DMV resident and REDSKINS fan, it's a good day Joe. We have endured so many losing seasons and to finally have the missing link we have all been waiting for, he is like baby Jesus around here (actually not my words, but the words of my HR Director who is born/raised in DC). The excitement is definitely back in the city and everyone is happy. #HTTR!!!!!

  • AfterMath

    As much as I love RG3, I think its naive to think of him as post racial. In all the talk about comparing him to Andrew Luck, you still hear the jabs thrown in there. People questioning his decision making. I remember Lavar Arrington going off on RG3 after he TORCHED Philly by throwing for 4 TDs and Lavar said that RG3 isn't learning from his mistakes and that's going to hurt him in the future (basically he scrambles too much and needs to throw the ball away instead of trying to create a play). Yesterday Steve Czaban wrote an article questioning RG3's intelligence because he doesn't go down on the ground fast enough. Charlie Casserly questioned RG3's rating numbers saying that he checks down too much and doesn't take chances like Luck does.

    The thing about the three people I name is that they're all known Skins fans, two of whom have a history with the organization. These aren't blatent racial claims, but they're permutations of the same ones, questioning his intelligence, questioning his decision making, and questioning his throwing abilities.
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    • The CPT

      They do this to all black QBs. They will always try to hold white QBs in higher regard. I have to agree with Lavar that they probably don't develop RGIII the way they would a Kirk Cousins. Some may argue that RGIII needs less development because of his high skill but he needs proper guidance like anyone else, regardless.

      • AfterMath

        I think every QB needs their own development plan dependent on their skillset. Jason Campbell for example probably needed to learn to slide more and to sense pressure, and maybe to work on his deep ball.

        RG3 has the same problem that Ben Rothlesberger and Tony Romo have in that they hold the ball too long, but the later two are called heros for extending the play while its seen as one of RG3's faults. The truth is that RG3 came in making few of the mistakes that normal rookies make so the "development" actions that he needs aren't the same as most rookies cause he's not making rookie mistakes.

        The question for coaches becomes – do we need to complicate the playbook to one where we're testing the limits of RG3's effectiveness, or do we try to win with the playbook we've installed? I think the Skins have gone with option B and I'm happy. We were planning on competing with a given playbook in July and to this point RG3 has mastered that playbook and led us to a 7-6 record with THE HIGHEST QB rating in the league. The playbook isn't what's limiting us, so I don't think we need to try to make things more complicated for RG3 just to speed up his development. We have the whole offseason and (hopefully) the next 15 years to do that.
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  • NipseysKlub

    "Robert Griffin III, or RG3-sus, or Bobby Three Sticks has been a lightning rod for a depressed Washington Redskins fanbase this season." I figured I pull out this quote to show that I, too, am a "Loyal Little" of the show.

    I agree with others that the post-racial title is a bit naive. But it has been easy to run w/ that phrase since the media has all quickly labeled President Obama as the post-racial president.

    Redskins have done a good job of including a lot of playaction plays, which has opened up some nice lanes for RG3 to throw through. For a rookie, he does need to learn to throw the ball away, etc. However, RG3 didn't play that way at Baylor so it will take time if he will learn that skill, something that Vick never embraced.

    • Joe Sargent

      Littles unite!

      As far as the term post-racial, I'm not in love with it either, as I said at the end. I just think, given the point I made, that was the best and most universal way to describe it.

      I think the best thing about the RG3 coverage is that we're talking about his good traits, faults, and development opportunities in the same context as every other quarterback. It isn't the same old debate of the 'running QB,' 'dual threat passer,' etc. His persona has transcended that, which I'm really happy about.

  • http://stanoffewwords.wordpress.com Tristan.

    My loyalties go Patriots > black qb > black coach > underdog…so im rooting for A$AP Robby. He was the right player for the right team at the right time (coincidentally as Vick is on his way down, Tebow got played by the Jets, and Cam is not winning enough games for people to realize he's gotten better this year). I wouldnt say he's post racial because we gotta see what happens when he has that 4 pick game, comes up short in the clutch. But right now the love RG3, put him all in the front of the store.
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  • The CPT

    HTTR! D.C. football is back with a black QB at the helm. I can tell you that it's exciting around here and watching the games has energized my Sunday's. RG3 is a class act, selfless and a good young leader on the field. We needed that after two decades of mediocre QBs who I've forgotten at least 80% of their names. This is the first time since Doug Williams was QB that I've seen fans so excited.

    Can't forget about our rookies either. Shanahan might not be the most liked but he's been picking younger, faster players like Kirk Cousins and Alfred Morris that has breathed new life in the team.

    Hail to the Redskins! It's been a long time coming.

  • Percy Jackson

    I heard a homeless guy yell out after the Ravens game…"We got 2 nig**s running the city now!!!Barrack and RG3 mutha***as!!!" That sht was hilarious

    • Joe Sargent

      Lol, maybe EVERYBODY isn't on board with my thinking.

  • http://glippost.wordpress.com Darrk Gable

    I’m a lifelong Skins fan, and what RG3 is doing is phenomenal. Not just as a black QB, but as a QB period. Granted, the “post racial” label might be a bit much, but I can understand the thought process. As far as the comparisons to Luck, they’re always going to be around simply because of the draft order and skill sets. What’s more, Luck is having a better year (team record-wise), so for all the accolades RG3 will get, let’s not discount what Indy is doing. They both are giving their respective teams exactly what they need.

    • AfterMath

      That's like saying that Tim Tebow had a good year last year.
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      • http://glippost.wordpress.com Darrk Gable

        Individually he didn’t, but team wise, he did. Can’t argue with playoffs. Results matter, so yes Cam had an exceptional year but where was his team? We’re in a results oriented culture. Wins matter more than ROY, at least to me.

  • Adonis

    I am going to be a Redskins fan starting next season (gotta wipe off this Jets filth first, #FreeTebow)

    I love his intelligence. I just want him to figure out how to run the ball effectively & not get it by 350lb linebackers.

    Now, we know America is famous for the "in your face" historic racism. In sports is no different. HOWEVER, it is more about WINNING now than about IMAGE (but you have a decent group of whites who would rather have inferior white QBs than see a RGIII sine), so they have no choice but to allow the Killa Cams & the RGIIIs of the world get shine.

    He will win at least 2 SBs when it is all said & done. So will Luck

  • AfrerMath

    You still using the post racial stuff after the ESPN comments on RG3 the other day?
    My recent post Learn About “the Other” Algebra

    • Joe Sargent

      I felt really good after the USA Today story on RG3 came out: http://www.usatoday.com/story/sports/nfl/redskins

      I think he provided a first-person perspective to what I was saying: the media, generally, covered him the same way they covered any other QB. He wasn't being covered the way most other Black QB's have been.

      …then Rob Parker opened his mouth, lol. In one sense, this only came up because RG3 addressed it (even though he moved past it). Parker's comments were interesting because I hadn't considered the negative coverage from Black sports media figures. This has (predictably) opened the floodgates for the discussion of RG3 and race. However, the outrage from virtually everyone about this shows that people WERE looking passed race when it comes to Griffin. If not, I think a lot more people would be coming to Parker's defense.

      • AfrerMath

        I was listening to Mike Wise today and he had a funny statement that that was probably the first time EVER that Steven A Smith was speechless. That was just a historic moment right there.
        My recent post Learn About “the Other” Algebra

    • Joe Sargent

      past*

      Woops.