The Risks of RGIII's Stardom


Washington Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III signs autographs at training camp.

The cheering is straight out of Beatlemania — unending, guttural screams of children and adults. It’s a good thing Washington Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III will return to Washington on Friday when training camp ends, because the new summer home has been nothing short of a cult haven. Richmond loves Griffin like some returning hero who just saved the planet.

It’s one thing to idolize a player, but training camp has resembled a Justin Beiber concert. Shouts of “RGIII!” never stop throughout two-hour workouts. His hand slap down the ropes before practices and his 45-minute autograph-signing sessions afterward do little to satiate the crowd’s fever.

What’s wrong with fans cheering a player? Normally nothing, but the hysteria surrounding Griffin during camp has been out of hand. And it causes problems.

Fans rarely call anyone else’s name. They like receiver Pierre Garcon, who throws an occasional ball into the crowd after a standout catch, but there are never calls for running back Alfred Morris, despite his sensational 1,613-yard rookie season. Indeed, Morris jokes of fans leaving his autograph line when they see Griffin.

Teammates like Griffin and don’t mind the pressure being on the quarterback, so there’s no jealousy for now. But this kind of idolatry eventually causes locker room problems.

Fortunately, Griffin recognizes this trap. He occasionally acknowledges fans during workouts but doesn’t encourage them.

“Yeah, it really is a fine line,” he said. “Whenever you’re out there in team drills and stuff like that, you respect the rest of the players that are out there. We are all on the same team so you don’t play with the crowd in those moments.

“The only thing I worry about, and I talk to my teammates about it every day: I don’t want them to feel bad because the fans are cheering my name and not theirs. But as long as they don’t mind, then I don’t mind either. But the second that starts getting on their nerves, then we’ll curb that real quick and make sure that all these guys get the appreciation and the attention they deserve.”

Several retired Redskins who know the cheers quietly worry that such unrelenting adulation will gradually get to Griffin, although he’s such a unique person on and off the field that he has withstood the hysteria so far. Nobody can resist it forever, though, and problems are bound to follow.

Washington fans didn’t act like this during Griffin’s rookie year. Maybe it’s Richmond fans getting their first close look at the team that’s prompting the madness. But there are other players on the team to follow, too.

Who would have thought training camp away from Redskins Park could cause a distraction?

Rick Snider has covered sports in Washington since 1978.

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