Robert Griffin III the celebrity heads back to work as an NFL quarterback

The Post Sports Live crew debates whether there is a chance that quarterback Robert Griffin III will not return in the Redskins’ Week 1 game against the Eagles. (Post Sports Live)
Mike Wise
Columnist July 23, 2013

Robert Griffin III returns to his part-time job Thursday: taking training-camp snaps for the defending NFC East champions. His full-time job, Cult of Personality in American Sport, will just have to suffer without him for a few Sundays and then some.

I’m really looking forward to seeing him in Richmond these next two days because, apart from minicamp in June, it has been easier to catch up with Edward Snowden this offseason.

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

Griffin was everywhere, no? Traveling vicariously through him these past six months you could have gone to:

●A really swanky White House Correspondents’ Association dinner after-party;

●The Kentucky Derby;

Saint-Tropez in southeastern Francefor a honeymoon;

●Paris to see the Louvre;

●Hollywood for the premiere of the Tom Cruise-Morgan Freeman movie “Oblivion”;

●The rooftop of the Millennium Building for Pierre Garcon’s all-white charity party.

He also had time to film ESPY promos, make a homemade music video wearing a Hulk mask with his betrothed gyrating in the background (he finally showed us he’s bad at something), sign thank-you notes to fans he had never met who bought up his wedding registry at Bed Bath & Beyond, push his Twitter account past 2,000 tweets and, oh yeah, rehab a surgically repaired right knee whose anterior cruciate and lateral collateral ligaments tore like spaghetti on Jan. 9.

I’m not worried about the run-pass balance for Griffin in the read-option offense this year. Griffin and the Shanahans will figure that one out. I’m worried about the balancing act between the demands of being the “It” Guy in an All-RGIII-All-The-Time media age and being a second-year quarterback coming off a major injury who is still expected to take his team the next step toward playing in a Super Bowl.

We have to assume that Griffin understands that NFL stardom gave him this celebrity, that football is the foundation of his Q-rating. But he seems to have that gotta-be-seen gene, which agents who represent him adore and head coaches and offensive coordinators flat-out deplore.

These past few months, if Griffin wasn’t noticed, talked about, retweeted or attending a monumental happening somewhere, you wondered whether he was feeling all right. I didn’t expect him to do his rehab in an underground bunker. But I never saw the next Snooki coming.

“The thing you have to understand about Robert is he’s the most humble, down-to-earth person you’re going to get, and even with how big he’s getting, I just don’t see that part of him changing,” William Mallow said when we spoke Tuesday by telephone from Lubbock, Tex.

Mallow has known Griffin since seventh grade. One of the groomsmen in his wedding this summer, he still calls Griffin’s dad “Coach Griffin” and is protective enough of his friend to go after the author of a recent tawdry blog post about Griffin’s personal life.

“His morals and values are in the right place,” Mallow said. “People always ask me, ‘What’s it like to be best friends with a superstar?’ To me, it’s just Robert. He’s got two parents who never left his side, who also have no problem putting him in his place if his ego gets too big, which isn’t often.”

The most surprising development this offseason was that Griffin could be polarizing. For the first time in his adult life he absorbed personal, public criticism.

He got grief for posting a photo of himself awash in all the wedding gifts fans purchased and then shot back at his detractors on Twitter. There were a series of unexplained, foreboding tweets (“In a land of freedom we are held hostage by the tyranny of political correctness”) and the clear-as-day determination, in an ESPN interview, that he shouldn’t have been on the field when he went down like a ragdoll against Seattle, which did everything but call out his coach.

Donovan McNabb told me in an interview earlier this summer that he thought Griffin needed to tone it down. Essentially, next to Griffin the past few months, the Kardashians and Stephen A. seemed underexposed. Part of that stems from the fact that we have multiple mediums to consume our athletic heroes now. We see every side to them through social media — in full.

For example, some days Griffin will have these incredibly deep thoughts he shares — “Do you ever find yourself lost in the beauty of this world? #WeirdMoment” he tweeted in May. But then it’s followed up by, “Check out my EA Sports Trailer.”

In other words, he is 23. And when you’re that age, famous or not, everything going on in your life at that moment is the most colossal thing in the history of mankind. Once you have more life experiences, you realize what Ben Bradlee’s father once told him after a particularly rough day as The Post’s executive editor: “When the history of the world is written, Ben, that doesn’t get a [expletive] line. Go back to work.”

Flaws and all, Muhammad Ali and Michael Jordan managed being the world’s most popular athletes fairly well during their careers. Tiger Woods had a rougher time in the TMZ universe, where a private meltdown became public, while LeBron James gets the award for best mid-career makeover.

The challenge is already beginning for Robert Griffin III. As long as he can keep his eye on the Lombardi Trophy and limit the pull of other interests, he might just be able to balance both jobs — Super Bowl-bound quarterback and American Sports Icon — with utmost perfection.

If not, hey, blame it on Tom Cruise and the movie premiere. That goes to everyone’s heads.

For more by Mike Wise, visit washingtonpost.com/wise.

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