Ronald Guy

A Situation Beyond Robert Griffin III’s Control

Created on Jul. 03, 2014 10:30 AM EST

The smoldering embers that Daniel Snyder and his merry “yes men” have foolishly and continuously stoked are now ablaze. The fire is out of control, and the smoke can be seen from NFL headquarters in New York City. The moniker of Washington’s professional football team is under persistent attack.

Maybe this would have happened on its own, but Snyder’s misunderstanding of the situation and disrespect of the swelling opposition has virtually ensured the owner’s worst nightmare — a complete franchise rebranding — will blow down Elm Street and cross over into reality. Reports are a burn victim with razor fingers and a well-worn fedora has been spotted in ‘Skins park. Unfortunately for Snyder, simply staying awake won’t make it all go away. 

As any politician in D.C. will attest, campaigns are won by appealing to people on the margin, the place where truly undecided voters reside. Snyder’s playground bully approach to this issue has strengthened support among his base — ‘Skins fans awash in burgundy and gold — and turned off just about everyone else.  Now, due to the confluence of natural momentum and Snyder’s absurdity, the forces for change have grown to such substantial portions that the ‘Skins seem destined to be the second major professional team in D.C. to change its name in my lifetime. 

But that’s the long-term end-state (although it’s getting closer). In the short term, Snyder’s decision to toss a can of lighter fluid into the hibachi has made usage of the R-word and Native American symbols the dominant issue facing the franchise. It threatens to shroud any on-field achievements is 2014 in controversy. Can you imagine if the ‘Skins were to go on some last-to-first miracle run (you know, the kind we see every year in the NFL), get hot late in the season, and make a run to the Super Bowl? Ponder this team, this name, this logo and this owner in the boiling media caldron for those two long weeks between the conference championships and the Super Bowl. Consider the protests, the organizations vying for a commercial slot and the demands on NFL executives to finally take a stand and force an owner’s hand (say, like, the NBA did). Jay Gruden who? Robert Griffin III said what? DeSean Jackson was caught with whom at what club? Forget about it. Let’s talk about the name …

It almost makes the Super Bowl not worth it for those either for or against the death of the R-word. But before I recklessly get ahead of myself (the ‘Skins in the Super Bowl — come on), Griffin recently experienced just a snippet of how problematic this issue will be during the summer and throughout the regular season.  While taking post-minicamp questions, Griffin was confronted with the issue and probed for his thoughts. The player who just a year ago was brazen about his availability for Week 1 passive-aggressively expressed his disdain for Team Shanahan, is constantly pushing new hashtags and logos, and hasn’t yet met a marketing campaign he didn’t like was suddenly full of clichés and all about football. In separate radio bits for ESPN 980 and 106.7 The Fan, Griffin said his focus was on the football stuff he can control: learning a new system, getting better and improving on last year. 

Blah, blah, blah. So, I surmise that a name change isn’t behind Griffin’s #TheMovement?

Griffin’s attempted touché reminds me of Tiger Wood and Michael Jordan deflecting nudges to exert greater social influence and retreating to the familiar confines of their chosen professions. Griffin doesn’t want to touch this. M.C. Hammer and the ‘Skins legal department said he can’t touch this even if he wanted to … which I doubt. But what Griffin may or may not realize is that he can’t avoid it. No amount of tired clichés or stale repetition will diffuse the issue and absolve him, the team’s most important, fascinating and influential player, from having to deal with it. The D.C. media may let it rest at some point, but every road game will put Griffin in front of fresh media faces looking for the quarterback’s opinion on “the issue.” And how long will it be before Adidas, Subway and Gatorade — three of Griffin’s most lucrative sponsors — become curious about their pitchman’s position on an increasingly uncomfortable issue for corporate America?

A year from now Griffin will be entering the fourth year of his five-year rookie deal. It will be time for the franchise and the quarterback to seriously discuss an extension. Assuming Griffin performs reasonably well in 2014, he’ll be due a substantial raise. The question for Griffin will be whether that raise is worth accepting in Washington or if some owner’s money in some other NFL town would just be easier. Say some destination where it actually is sufficient to just talk about football. 

Hmm, I wonder if Griffin’s current owner is contemplating these angles and considering the true impact of “the issue” on his franchise. I wonder if he still swears he’ll “never” change the name.

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