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RGIII on his time with the Redskins, being an African American quarterback and social change

Robert Griffin III in 2012. (John McDonnell/The Washington Post)

Robert Griffin III still remembers the news conference former Washington Redskins coach Mike Shanahan held after Washington fell to 3-6 with a home loss to the Carolina Panthers in Week 9 of Griffin’s rookie year.

“When you lose a game like that, now you’re playing to see who, obviously, is going to be on your football team for years to come,” Shanahan said in November 2012 after the Redskins’ third consecutive defeat entering their bye week. “Now we get a chance to evaluate players and see where we’re at.”

Griffin wasn’t interested in looking to 2013, and when the No. 2 pick in the 2012 NFL draft talked to reporters that day, he promised to be a better quarterback in the second half of the season. The Redskins would win seven straight games to close the season and clinch their first division title since 1999.

“It’s not how you start. It’s how you finish,” Griffin said on the latest episode of John Keim’s podcast, during which the 30-year-old reflected on his rise and fall in Washington and expressed his belief that he will be a starter in the NFL again.

“For me and my career, it kind of sets the same precedent,” he said. “We started off fast, and now I’ve had a lot of bumps in the road. Now I’m getting back up the hill and getting to put my best foot forward. That 2012 year was phenomenal.”

The knee injury Griffin suffered in Washington’s playoff loss to the Seattle Seahawks after the 2012 season altered his career trajectory. Following his unceremonious exit in 2016 from the region he took by storm as a rookie four years earlier, Griffin spent a season with the Cleveland Browns. He flirted with attempting to qualify for the Olympics as a hurdler while out of the league in 2017 before he joined the Baltimore Ravens as a backup in 2018.

Injuries aside, as Griffin has discussed before, he told Keim he was set up to fail with Washington. Griffin said Shanahan didn’t want him “since Day 1” and dismissed the notion that his ego played a role in his downfall.

“That was a power struggle between the owner and the coach, and I got stuck in the middle,” Griffin said. “It’s tough to be an African American quarterback in the NFL. … It’s starting to turn the tide, but African American quarterbacks have always been scrutinized in a different way, whether people would like to admit that or not. That’s part of this conversation. That’s part of the systemic racism. That’s part of prejudice. That’s part of those stereotypes that we’re trying to eliminate. At the end of the day, I think that played a role."

Griffin didn’t elaborate on how racism affected him during his tenure with the Redskins, but he said his experience with Washington ultimately made him a better man and a better leader. It has informed the advice he provides to Ravens starting quarterback Lamar Jackson, the reigning NFL MVP.

“I don’t think anybody wants that experience, but at the end of the day, you have to maximize your experiences in this life,” Griffin said of his time with the Redskins. “I think I’ve tried to do that to the best of my abilities.”

Griffin said he will one day write a book “and tell everybody what they want to know about what happened in Washington,” but now is not the time. He would prefer to look forward, to what’s left of his NFL career as he enters the final year of his contract with the Ravens and to doing what he can to affect social change.

Last week, Griffin, who joked as a rookie that he would talk about anything except race, religion and politics, was moved to share a nearly seven-minute video on Twitter voicing support for the Black Lives Matter movement and talking about the importance of being an anti-racist and an educated voter.

“Black lives matter, but matter is the minimum,” Griffin says in the video. “Black lives are beloved. Black lives are worthy. Black lives are needed. Black lives matter.”

Griffin told Keim the video took one take because it “came from the heart.”

“It’s an awkward time right now for a lot of people who may or may not be African American,” Griffin said. “Some people have never said anything. Some people have always thought, ‘Man, this doesn’t affect me that much, so I’m just going to stay out of harm’s way.’ I need those people — we need those people — to step up and say something. The people who aren’t affected, they have to be just as outraged as the people who are.”

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