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!