Because every sports story is constitutionally required to prompt a serious discussion about a serious issue with serious takes from serious men in serious suits, the fun and funny story of Redskins fans buying wedding trinkets for Robert Griffin III and his fiancee almost immediately turned awful.
“Fans keep buying gifts you would keep them all? I wouldn’t, middle class w/term disease. Think less fortunate could benefit?” wrote one critic, who termed RGIII “selfish” and “arrogant.”
“In our view, people can spend their money however they choose, whether it’s buying blenders for their sports heroes or contributing to the jackpot for Powerball, which wouldn’t be nearly as successful if its name captured its essence — a tax on the poor and delusional,” wrote Pro Football Talk’s Mike Florio.
“Nice to know that so many people who probably wouldn’t give can of soup for food drive will buy new sheets for RGIII,” wrote the AJC’s Jeff Schultz, with wagging finger fully in motion.
Well, tell that to Patrick Dibert, a 24-year old Redskins fan who works in the non-profit sector for a Virginia group that fights hunger. He bought Griffin and his fiancee, Rebecca Liddicoat, a set of Brita water filters for $30 (including shipping), and he isn’t about to apologize.
“It’s not like that was money I’m not going to donate to charity; I’m just not going to go out to happy hour one time during the week,” Dibert told me on Monday. “I mean, it’s just kind of funny to say I bought RGIII a present.”
“It was kind of a goof,” agreed Wes Taylor, a 30-year old from Anne Arundel County who bought RGIII and his fiancee a pair of spoon holders for $8. “To be perfectly honest, I just saw something on there that wasn’t that expensive and was like ‘You know what, I might as well send that.’ It was off the wall, it was goofy and no one else had bought it.’ ”
For John Short, a 31-year old from Charlotte, the entire episode was less about RGIII and more about being a Redskins fan, having pride in the team and pride in the particular lunacy that unites its supporters.
“Everybody knows Redskins fans are crazy optimists who love RGIII,” he said, explaining why he and his wife spent $35 on a chip-and-dip set for a quarterback. “I think it’s just an indication of the way Redskins fans feel about the team. Yes, it’s crazy and illogical, but it was kind of a no-brainer once we thought about it. We love this team, and this is a unique way to support them; why wouldn’t we do it? You don’t see Jaguars fans buying their draft picks anything; that’s something that makes Redskins fans unique. It IS weird, but it’s something uniquely Redskins.”
And, some fans hastened to note, spending a few bucks on something silly does not preclude them from spending larger sums on charitable causes. Danny Kolta, a 24-year old from Arlington, just paid more than $500 at a charity silent auction for an RGIII jersey; that’s considerably more than the $7 he spent on a wedding dish towel.
“I’m only 24 years old, but he just gave me the most exciting Redskins season I’ve ever seen,” Kolta explained. “He’s a normal person. Just because he’s rich he shouldn’t be able to receive gifts? That’s kind of stupid….With all the bad quarterbacks we’ve had, now we actually have something to be excited about. I just wanted to thank him. That’s the least I could do.”
Which is the point for most of these people, I think. They know RGIII doesn’t “need” their presents, just the way Daniel Snyder doesn’t “need” their hundreds of dollars in annual season-ticket payments or merchandise purchases. But the quarterback means something special to them, and this was an easy and quirky way to demonstrate that.
“I just thought it would be something nice to do, just basically something nice to do,” said Keith Elgin, a 32-year old from Woodbridge, who bought the couple a $15 welcome mat. “I’m not gonna buy him a $200 bread maker, but something like a welcome mat doesn’t set me back too much, and it’s just an appreciation for what he stands for….There was really just nothing in it for us; we were just trying to do something nice.”
“There’s no downside, really,” said Short, who annually donates his preseason tickets to the Redskins Charitable Foundation. “Best-case scenario, it’s something they use all the time; worst case scenario, we’re out 35 bucks and we have a good story.”
“I was joking with my friends, he’s going to be drinking water out of a filter I bought him,” Dibert said. “I’m going to be one of the reasons he’s hydrated, I’m going to be one of the reasons the Redskins do well.”
“I didn’t want him to flip in the tub and hurt his knee,” joked Jimmy Chan, a 34-year old from Sterling, who bought a bath mat. It’s just a way to be connected to them. He’ll get something from me, as a thank you for the way he entertained me this year. He seems like a really nice kid — everything you hear is how great a person he is — and you just want to do something nice for nice people.”
“He gives people hope they didn’t have before,” Taylor said. “I guess they appreciate it.”
Indeed, at least a few of the gift-givers acted just in the past 24 hours, after the backlash had already started. Chris Kotwicki, a 19-year old college student from Stafford, was receiving texts from friends who support other NFC East teams, making fun of Griffin for accepting the gifts. So he went online and bought washcloths for $6, plus $3 for the wedding wrapping.
“What do they want him to do, buy his own wedding presents?” Kotwicki asked of Griffin’s critics. “He’s the future of D.C. and he’s getting married; I’ve got to support him.”
Also, it’s not often you can write RGIII a personalized note and feel confident he’ll receive it. Elgin included a biblical verse that was read at his own wedding, along with good-luck wishes. Short and his wife, on the other hand, encouraged the couple to use the chip-and-dip set while watching the Cowboys lose during next season’s bye week.
“We hope your marriage brings you as much joy as you’ve brought Redskins fans,” they added.
“Congratulations, hope you have many happy years together, Hail to the Redskins,” Dibert wrote.
And Kolta, who sent the dish towel?
“I hope you think of me when you wash your hands,” he wrote.
Now have at it, First Take.