Give Robert Griffin III some space and he just might be a star again in Washington

The Post Sports Live crew offers bold predictions for the Redskins record, team MVP and more. (Post Sports Live/The Washington Post)
Columnist September 2, 2014

It’s easy and natural for a city to adopt a strong paternal interest in a young, charismatic sports star — to constantly remind a superior athlete not to waste his special gifts.

But in the zeal to critique and over-correct often comes obsession with making sure the 20-something star doesn’t underachieve and morph into a 30-something malcontent on a game-day panel discussion.

Mike Wise is a sports columnist for The Washington Post. View Archive

Don’t let Robert Griffin III wind up in that television studio before 30. Let RGIII be. He already has a dad. He doesn’t need 80,000 more.

Griffin is the singular on-field reason why America has cared about Washington as an NFL franchise since 2012. Let him do his maturation thing, gradually grow into a drop-back quarterback who will play beyond 10 years and win the biggest games that can be won in this league.

It’s not just my good friend and colleague Jason Reid doling out the tough love daily; it’s everyone from the Maryland Eastern Shore to Hampton Roads infatuated with the tired, played-out angle of “When is RGMe going to become RGWe?

The Post Sports Live crew offers bold predictions for the Washington Redskins season opener at the Houston Texans on Sunday. (Post Sports Live/The Washington Post)

Yes, his Rocky-esque, “Keep-Doubting-Me” musings on Twitter have the markings of a youngster raised on too many cheesy sports movies and Smackdown. Yes, he needs to run less and slide more. And certainly Griffin has to grasp Jay Gruden’s scheme and hit DeSean Jackson and Pierre Garcon in stride so Washington doesn’t return to the days when its defense had to continually bail out its offense.

But whether Griffin’s uniform stands out, whether the branding of a popular athlete is folded into the marketing of an NFL franchise, is all immaterial next to whether he can win football games like he did before major reconstructive knee surgery two seasons ago.

This isn’t the Naval Academy. This isn’t Fort Belvoir basic training. This is professional sports, where most experienced players know that starting NFL quarterbacks will always be treated differently, that all players are not created equal.

When the great Brazilian basketball player Oscar Schmidt was asked by a reporter at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics why he shot all the time while his teammates only set screens for him and barely saw the ball, Oscar replied, matter-of-factly, “Some people, they play the piano. And some people, they move the piano.”

Griffin plays the piano. Everyone else in Ashburn moves it. From the moment Dan Snyder gave the go-ahead to mortgage his future for the Heisman Trophy winner from Baylor, that has been the deal.

No one gave up three first-round draft picks for a left guard or a down lineman. The biggest draft sacrifice in NFL history was made for a quarterback — and not a fourth-round quarterback.

Kirk Cousins is not taking Griffin’s job. Unless Griffin goes down to injury, Gruden is not going to toy with Griffin’s confidence like that after the polarization between Mike and Kyle Shanahan and their quarterback defined a dysfunctional 3-13 season.

The Post Sports Live crew debates if Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III will be benched this season if he and the offense play below expectations. (Post Sports Live/The Washington Post)

Gruden is about building bridges, finding a way to make things work and win. Griffin is going to be the largest part of the equation. His play and his resilience still mean the difference between 5-11 and, best-case scenario, 9-7.

His main responsibility after football should be developing thicker skin, realizing that everyone is going to be watching intently to see if Shanahan was the problem last season or whether the refreshing bolt of electricity that high-stepped down that sideline in 2012 was really just Fred Lynn in 1975 — the promise of something that featured too much fearless play and too many injuries to realize its full potential.

Griffin’s main flaw from this vantage point has never been his inability to adjust to a drop-back style. It’s his inability to let go of negative things said or written about him. He wants to be liked too much in a profession where 50 percent of his weekly audience wants him to fail. LeBron James and many of the greatest athletes of all time suffered from this psychological malady early in their careers.

But someone got to LeBron, someone who essentially gave him the best advice anyone trying to be successful at anything should take: It’s not my job to worry about what other people think about me; it’s my job to worry about what I think about me.

Until Robert Griffin III learns that, everyone trying to tell him what he needs to do only compounds the frustration of a mind that needs to be uncluttered right about now.

Meanwhile, the rest of us can help by realizing that whatever reservations we have over whether Griffin is a franchise quarterback were never going to be answered in July or August.

The only reason this franchise became part of the national conversation as perhaps a bona fide NFL team the past two years is No. 10. Not Shanahan. Not London Fletcher.

The only reason anyone outside of this market is tuning in this year is No. 10, and whether he can go long to Jackson and stand his ground in the pocket.

He plays the piano; the rest of them move it. Now give him his sheet music, get out of the way and let him sit down and stroke the keys. You can yell at him all you want like he’s your kid after the recital is over. But don’t think for one minute that’s going to make him play better.

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