What’s important about the Washington Redskins’ boorish behavior isn’t whether Robert Griffin III has the respect of some of his teammates. What matters most is that the franchise continues to be crippled by the leadership vacuum in the locker room, which is among the biggest hurdles Coach Jay Gruden faces in his attempt to rebuild the team.
Last Friday, many players showed their immaturity by shouting as Griffin attempted to speak with reporters in the locker room, ignoring a high-ranking team official’s repeated requests to tone it down. And even after Griffin and reporters moved into a hallway, players continued shouting, prompting the official to leave Griffin and address the ringleaders.
Griffin appeared embarrassed by the unprofessionalism of his teammates, who clearly demonstrated a lack of respect for Washington’s supposed franchise quarterback. You think Peyton Manning or Tom Brady have to flee their own locker rooms to conduct interviews? Griffin isn’t universally beloved — few players are on any team — but his popularity had little do to with the clown antics.
For weeks, players have been openly hostile toward reporters, largely in response to the team’s decision to open the locker room for interviews after practice. A day prior to the Griffin interview fiasco, a team official had a contentious exchange with a player who refused to turn down loud music while reporters attempted to work.
Generally, I don’t write about the challenges reporters often face; work-related problems come with most jobs. This season, though, what has occurred in the Redskins’ locker room is more than the typical boys-will-be-boys stuff.
About a month ago, the Redskins were way too upbeat just minutes after losing for the 12th time in 13 games. Privately, some players have expressed concerns over the lack of focus demonstrated by some top-of-the-depth-chart veterans in practice and meetings. For a 3-6 team in last place in the NFC East at its bye week, the Redskins don’t appear to be serious about trying to turn around their season, at least not in the presence of outsiders.
The Redskins appear to be speeding toward their sixth last-place finish in seven seasons and eighth in 11. To end the free-fall, the Redskins need better players and strong leaders. As team management could attest, they’re hard to find.
If the Redskins had a take-charge leader who commanded widespread respect, he would have interceded before the nonsense that swirled around Griffin’s interview got out of hand. He would have realized that the Redskins already have had too many self-inflicted public relations disasters. He would have stopped the ridiculousness before additional reports about their warped organizational culture resulted in another game-day distraction.
But who on the current roster could even attempt to fill such a role in the future?
As the starting quarterback, Griffin is the most likely candidate. Anyone who plays the sport’s most important position is automatically in the conversation. On and off the field, many of the best teams are led by signal-callers. But Griffin seems to lack the personality to set the tone with his words, and he certainly hasn’t done it with his play in a long time.
Ryan Clark has been out front for much of his career. The 13-year veteran was a leader on a Super Bowl-winning team. But in all likelihood, Clark will be analyzing the Redskins on television next season, not playing for them.
Likewise, talented defensive lineman Jason Hatcher is someone others could follow. However, Hatcher is 32. It’s doubtful he’ll be in top form by the time Gruden reworks the roster.
Ryan Kerrigan possesses the right blend of talent and work ethic. The productive outside linebacker has been with the organization his entire career, which is another plus. Kerrigan understands the personalities on the team; he just doesn’t have the shut-up-and-do-what-I-say attitude of an enforcer.
When the Redskins begin focusing on the 2015 NFL draft, they should put more emphasis on the personality components that make up good leaders: stability, dependability, forthrightness, etc. Dazzling times in the 40-yard dash and impressive weightlifting displays are great, but the Redskins need more players on whom they can depend to represent the organization well in any arena.
Every coach needs partners in the locker room to spread his message and keep the group on the right course. The rudderless Redskins keep following the wrong one.
Expect the hijinks to continue until Gruden cleans house and replaces the pranksters with better players — and rock-solid leaders — who understand what it means to be professional. Until then, the joke’s on the Redskins.
For more by Jason Reid, visit washingtonpost.com/reid.
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