Robert Griffin Jr. is no longer granting interviews to the media, a fact that will undoubtedly please the indignant pundits and message-board posters and the well-meaning Washington Redskins fans who crave only harmony for the burgundy and gold. It may also please the Redskins’ coaches, who would probably rather not have their starting quarterback’s father weighing in, publicly and pointedly, on the direction of the offense.
“Good,” one team official said this week when informed of Griffin Jr.’s no-more-interviews edict.
It may even please Robert Griffin III himself, who, even as he points himself squarely toward the Redskins’ Sept. 9 season opener, manages to draw enough attention to the perceived tension between himself and Coach Mike Shanahan on his own without any additional salvos from his dad.
Besides, we already know how the elder Griffin feels about the way his son should be used in 2013 as the latter returns from the knee injury that required reconstructive surgery in January and fueled half a year’s worth of controversy.
On May 22, Griffin Jr., the man who molded his son in the image of his own quarterback idols of the 1970s, told The Washington Post: “I just know that based on what I know Robert can do, he doesn’t have to be a runner as much as I saw last year. To me, you’re paying these [receivers] a lot of money to catch the football. I’m his dad — I want him throwing that football, a lot. A lot.”
What more was there to say? A little more, as it turns out. In the September issue of GQ magazine, featuring his son on the cover, Griffin Jr., 48, was quoted as saying, “You name one quarterback out there that would rather run the football than throw the football and I’ll show you a loser.”
Putting aside the contentious question of whether the read-option offense — predicated in large part upon the threat of Griffin running the ball — actually puts the quarterback at greater risk or protects him by freezing the linebackers and ends, the reaction to the elder Griffin’s comments was almost universally negative and could be boiled down to two words: Butt out. The perception was that Robert Griffin Jr. was a meddler — or worse, a helicopter parent who was inserting himself where he doesn’t belong: in the professional affairs of his adult son.
“My dad would never go to the media and have any quotes about what I do at my job,” said former Redskins linebacker LaVar Arrington, like Griffin III the product of a military family, on his 106.7 The Fan radio show. “. . . My father is not going to make my business his business as an adult. It came across the wrong way.”
But such criticism fails to acknowledge a few things: First, Griffin Jr. wasn’t going around offering his opinions; in each instance, he was asked a question and answered honestly, as a parent seeking to protect his son.
Second, the fact that other players’ fathers do not routinely opine about their sons’ usage doesn’t mean anything. These are unique circumstances: the most important player at the most important position on the most important team in a major media market, where there are legitimate questions about whether said player’s health is put at risk by the nature of the team’s offense.
Finally, to those would criticize Robert Griffin Jr., remember: He has earned the right to say whatever he wants to say.
Most days, Robert Griffin Jr. rides the Metro into and out of D.C. in eyes-straight-ahead anonymity, just another federal-worker bureaucrat commuting to his downtown office. Fellow riders will gaze at their newspapers or rehash the latest exploits of RGIII without realizing the man most responsible for making the Redskins’ quarterback what he is today is sitting in their midst.
But every once in a while, someone will recognize him as Robert Griffin III’s father and will elbow another rider, and pretty soon a chant will begin: “R-G-2! R-G-2!”
Such is the gravitational pull of Planet RGIII around these parts that even the moons in his orbit are minor celebrities — none more so than his father, whom the younger Griffin still refers to as “my coach” and who remains perhaps the most influential person in his life.
Redskins fans love RGII, a retired Army Sergeant and Iraq War veteran who, along with his wife, Jacqueline, moved to the region after his son was drafted by the Redskins in 2012. They love him at least until he starts talking about the Redskins’ offense.
Griffin Jr. is a working man — taking his first job, he has said, at age 13 and joining the Army during his senior year in high school when he realized his family couldn’t afford college. He eventually completed bachelors and masters degrees, which allowed him, following his retirement from the Army, to land a job at Fort Hood — near his home in Copperas Cove, Tex. — counseling soldiers returning from war.
At Fort Hood, he worked on the same floor in the same building as Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan, who was sentenced to death last week for the 2009 shooting rampage that killed 13 people and wounded 32 others. Griffin, though, has said he didn’t know Hasan.
Despite the urging of his family, Griffin Jr. refused to move to the D.C. area, upon Griffin III’s landing with the Redskins, without finding a job first. Living off his son’s earnings was out of the question. He put in job applications, wound up with several offers to pick from and chose a job at the Department of Veterans Affairs, where he works as a management analyst. After a year in Gaithersburg, the Griffins recently bought a house in Upper Marlboro, not far from FedEx Field.
“He’s the guy who knows how to find all the answers,” said S.J. DiFronzo, a co-worker. “It’s not [a skill] you can put on a résumé, but it’s incredibly valuable.”
Just after noon most workdays, Griffin Jr., will head out of his I Street office and — accompanied by a couple of co-workers — walk to his daily lunch spot on K Street, where all the employees know him and start getting his sandwich ready the second he walks through the door.
“My goal,” he said there over sandwiches one day this spring, “is to be done working when I’m 50. When that time comes, I want to be on a beach somewhere.”
If there is one thing Robert Griffin Jr. stands for, it is respecting the chain of command. It explains why he ran his household with strict discipline, why his son still says “Yes, sir” and “No, ma’am” to his elders. It’s why Griffin Jr. on Feb. 12, 2003 — his son’s 13th birthday — accepted a stop-loss deployment to Iraq despite the fact he already had his retirement papers in hand and probably could have begged out.
So with that in mind, why would he inject his opinions into the affairs of the Redskins, where the chain of command is unambiguous in dictating that coaches coach and players play?
“I don’t work for them,” the elder Griffin said this spring. “I’m not bound by them.”
There was a perception among many that Griffin Jr. — the best man, after all, at his son’s July wedding — was speaking for his son, at least to some extent, in saying the things the chain of command prevented the latter from saying. This perception was only bolstered on May 23 at Redskins Park, during Griffin III’s first news conference since the Seattle game, when he was asked about his father’s comments to The Post.
“I love my dad,” he said. “I talked to him after I heard what he said and I told him thank you because that’s what he is supposed to say as my father. He does not want to see me running around out there on the field. He wants to see me throwing the ball. He was the one that trained me, so he knows what I can do and Coach knows what I can do. It is not that I disagree or agree with what he said, but I was proud of the fact that he stood up and said something.”
Any sense that Griffin’s father was operating as a lone wolf — his rantings wholly disconnected from his son’s own opinions — disappeared this week, when Griffin III told ESPN 980 in response to a question about the read-option offense, “I’m a quarterback. . . . We want to throw the ball. And you think pass first, run second. That’s just the way it is.”
The Griffin men, it should be clear by now, are not to be muzzled, unless it is by their own free will.