Yes, he can ...
... be the most transformative athlete, role model and voice of a generation
DEAR MR. PRESIDENT,
I'm writing to you on behalf of a young man who recently moved to your district. He's a 23-year-old native of Copperas Cove, Texas, a recent graduate of Baylor University, and it's my hope that you might offer him some guidance. It's my fear that you're the only person who can. His name is Robert Griffin III. You have a passing, public acquaintance with Mr. Griffin, of course, but I suspect you root for him privately, perhaps intensely, perhaps more than you realize, and how could you not? In many ways Mr. Griffin is you, and you are him.
I don't mean politically. As you know, Mr. Griffin is staunchly apolitical, won't declare himself Democrat or Republican, counts members of both parties among his close friends. One of his favorite professors at Baylor, a Molly Ivins type, says Griffin talked in class like an impassioned liberal, whereas Baylor's president, Judge Ken Starr, one of the most famous conservatives in recent years, speaks of Griffin like a son. No, the comparison between you and Griffin stems from things other than politics, things such as your origins, and the galvanizing effect you have on others, and the manner in which you both burst onto the scene.
Like you, Griffin started with an entrenched core of ardent believers, which grew and grew. In the past year, his popularity has exploded, radiated outward in ever widening circles, and recently the NFL announced that Griffin's jersey is the best-selling single-season jersey of all time.
Think of that, Mr. President. Think of the legends Griffin surpassed in reaching that milestone. Montana, Favre, Marino, Aikman -- this young man has outsold them all. As a purely factual matter, Griffin hasn't done enough in his short career to outsell Tiki Barber, but numbers don't lie; the public, like the heart, wants what it wants. So the question is, why do they want it? Yes, Griffin was Offensive Rookie of the Year. Yes, he completed 66 percent of his passes, threw 20 TDs against five picks. Nice. Fine. But Griffinmania can't be about stats, any more than "Obama Girl" was about your time as senator. Fans and nonfans, red states and blue, are rocking the burgandy-and-gold because they see in Griffin things that aren't quite there, at least not yet. They see Griffin as more than a football player, in the same way that your fans (and critics) see you as more than a president.
Of course one can't overlook the power of Faith. On a chain around his neck, with his fiancée's high school ring, Griffin wears a scripture-etched dog tag: For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. So maybe he's the second coming of Tebow, the savior for whom a vast flock has been waiting, religious and accurate. (In which case, may God have mercy on those secondaries.)
Also, one can't overlook race. It's worth noting that Griffin plays for the only team in the NFL named after pigmentation. Also, the Redskins were the last team, the very last, to desegregate. Against the backdrop of such fraught imagery and regrettable history, the Redskins chose Griffin with the second pick in last year's draft, and all at once the team's African-American fans found themselves in possession of an unexpected, delicious source of pride, a black quarterback who ranked among the best and brightest in his class, maybe his generation. Yes, there was Doug Williams, long ago. But this was different somehow. This was real change -- revolutionary change. As in 2008, there was much rejoicing on the Mall.
Like you, Mr. President, Griffin promises to transcend old rules, to smash ancient barriers. Like you, he challenges fixed ideas, especially the one about great promise versus consummate virtuosity. In the same dismissive way that people mention your oratory prowess -- implying it's innate, therefore not earned, not real -- they mention Griffin's speed. Flash, sans fire, that's the underlying dig. Promise, like beauty, is skin deep, and virtuosity, mastery, genuine excellence, is the only thing that counts; thus many predict that you and Griffin will fail. Thus, many need you to succeed.
For too long, African-American quarterbacks have been like Internet stocks. They bubble up, everyone gets excited, then the bubble bursts. Then everyone becomes doubly excited, and doubly fearful, about the next one. With so much at stake, or perceived to be at stake, it's natural that people get nervous and use big nonsensical words (postracial, transformational) in trying to describe Griffin, the same words they use to describe you. In Griffin's case, what they're often euphonically tiptoeing around is intelligence. Griffin -- A student, candidate for a master's degree -- offers hope to countless African-Americans that the gap between Randall Cunningham/Donovan McNabb/Warren Moon and Dan Fouts/Jim Kelly/Dan Marino, though illusory, can finally be closed.
So perhaps I misspoke. Perhaps it is all about politics, because if race is the football, politics is the laces. Perhaps that's why Griffin, like you, has energized a hungry, cynical constituency. (Few are hungrier than Skins fans, or have more cause to be cynical.) Hence those faux Shepard Fairey posters all over town. Surely you've seen them. That word, HOPE, emblazoned beneath Griffin's 10-yard-wide smile. Never mind that the poster makes Griffin look exactly like Eddie Murphy, circa 48 Hours; it rises above parody, achieves a certain poignancy, because it makes clear that, beyond rooting, people truly are hoping. They're hoping for something more than wins, more than titles, something that touches on intangibles like legitimacy and dignity and respect.
I had occasion to meet Griffin the other day. We talked about you. "Cool, calm, collected guy," he said when I asked his impression. You were together, he says, at the National Prayer Breakfast and had a few moments to compare notes on your highly scrutinized, highly symbolic lives. "He's not a normal person," Griffin says. "I'm not a normal person. It's fun when two abnormal people can be normal."
Meaning, you talked sports. Specifically, Griffin says you talked about the quarterback of the Redskins enjoying a place near the capstone of the power pyramid that is DC, which is sick in the head for football and always has been, going back to when President Nixon drew up plays and sent them to Coach Allen. "A lot of people have said DC's my town, it's not Obama's town," Griffin says. "Obama's the second most popular person in the city. I don't look at it that way. But I can see what they're saying."
I wish I'd been at that breakfast. I'd have pointed out how many other things you two have in common besides abnormal lives. Indeed, the next time you and Griffin meet, you should take full stock of your many parallels, big and small. For instance, Griffin, like you, was born in the middle of the Pacific (Okinawa -- both his parents were U.S. Army sergeants). Griffin, like you, is the only son of an iron-willed mother (Jackie -- she's said to attend Redskins practices, and she sat in on film sessions at Baylor). Griffin, like you, is faulted for always running, for not knowing when to stop running. Critics blame this on rigidity, a refusal to compromise. They say you don't listen to opponents; they say Griffin doesn't listen to his body, which isn't so much his opponent as his frenemy. He doesn't bend to its will, doesn't accept its limits.
He disputes all this, of course. He insists that as last season wore on, he became more -- you should forgive the word -- conservative. Take Week 14, he says. He was leveled, laid out, by Baltimore's Haloti Ngata, a behemoth descended from the Kingdom of Tonga who, that day, descended from the sky. The hit caused Griffin's leg to fly straight up in the air, then whipsaw from side to side, like the needle on a lie detector. To which Alex Rodriguez is attached.
"You'll never see anyone get injured like that again," Griffin says. "All 350 pounds of Ngata, all the massiveness that is Haloti Ngata, running at you full speed, and as I'm getting down he hits my leg." Just a "freak" thing, he adds. He was trying to stop running, trying to slide. What more do people want? Everyone harasses Griffin to change his game, he says, "but what everyone doesn't realize is -- I did change my game."
Four weeks later, playing Seattle in the first round of the playoffs, Griffin was favoring his Ngata-fied leg, limping noticeably, when the leg finally gave way. Its fundamental ligaments shredded or snapped or did whatever ligaments do when they commit suicide. He had to be carried off the field.
Fans in DC, you'll recall, came together in one righteous wave of rage. Rage is the fast twitch of fans after any big loss, but this was different. This was frothy, inchoate, bottomless, alarming rage, and it wasn't about the loss of the game, it was about the loss of Griffin, and it always seemed to crescendo with the same baleful lament: Didn't they realize what was at stake? So much hope, fans said, so much possibility, dashed. It was Kierkegaard, Mr. President, who said that too much "possibility" leads to madness. (An aside: Kierkegaard also talked about "the audacity of despair." I'm not sure what he meant -- no one knows what Kierkegaard meant, not even Kierkegaard -- but I thought it was worth mentioning.) The rage set off by Griffin's injury, to my mind, mirrored the hysteria set off by your defeat in the first debate against Mitt Romney. It was that same spluttering apoplexy -- Didn't he realize what was at stake?
More parallels between BHO and RG3. You've spoken of your veneration for Abe Lincoln; Griffin was born on Lincoln's birthday. You're a lawyer; Griffin plans to attend law school. Your theme song: "Hail to the Chief." His: "Hail to the Redskins." (He also wears a chief on his hat.) Even your differences have a certain symmetry. You needed to collect key endorsements in order to reach the Promised Land; Griffin collected his after. (And how. He has more endorsement riches than any other rookie in NFL history.)
Above all, Mr. President, as you and Griffin both enter your second terms, you both, unhappily, have decided to greatly restrict access. (Example: For this piece, Griffin's parents, sisters, fiancée, head coach, offensive coordinator, general manager, team owner, public relations staff and doctors were off-limits.) What this means for the 44th president of the United States, historians will decide; what it means for the 56th starting quarterback of the Washington Redskins seems more readily apparent. He risks becoming a product rather than a person. If he lets his story be told only in canned, staged, micro and micromanaged platforms, his image might go wider, but his relationship with The People will narrow.
Certainly your predecessors (both yours and Griffin's) were prone to concealment. But many of them were doing us a favor with their silence, whereas you and Griffin are interesting. So I beseech you, Mr. President, talk to Griffin, tell him about the evils of sequester. Tell him that sequester, whether forced on you by political foes or self-imposed, is a very bad thing. Being sequestered is good only when you're the jury in a Mafia murder trial.
I anticipate what you might say, Mr President: It's a new world. If Griffin feels the urge to connect with fans, he can speak to them directly, through Twitter, or one of his many commercials. You too prefer social media, videos, speeches, etc., something you joked about last month during (ironically) the Gridiron Dinner. But you -- an author, a memoirist, a beautiful speechwriter -- also appreciate the power of old-fashioned storytelling, and you must concede that even if an athlete can reach fans through Twitter, he can't connect with them, really connect, except through story. And one cannot tell a story 140 characters or 30 seconds at a time.
Griffin's fans know some of his story, but when you talk to them, you can feel it: They want more, more, more. They want to know everything about, say, Copperas Cove, a city of 32,000 in the shadow of Fort Hood. That's where Griffin grew up, and it's kind of rough. Parts of the historic downtown look like the set of a movie in which Tom Cruise or Will Smith is the lone survivor of a holocaust or plague. Griffin, however, didn't feel the full brunt of his surroundings, the full wrack and pain of poverty, thanks to his dad. "He would not eat to get me a new pair of shoes," Griffin says. "If I needed basketball shoes, they were there."
Why was his father so self-sacrificing, so determined to provide? Because his father, the original Robert Griffin, couldn't afford to buy him shoes when he was growing up (projects, New Orleans) and thus Robert Griffin Jr. couldn't afford to play sports. Which makes it all the more improbable and inspiring, on your way out of Copperas Cove, to find yourself driving along the newly christened Robert Griffin III Boulevard. (Parallel to the Walmart, it intersects Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard.) The Family Griffin is the proto-American saga, shoeless to easy street in two clicks of the generational wheel, but that's only the tip of the story. How fascinating it would be to hear the rest -- to road test the story with Griffin and the people around him -- but that road is currently closed.
Griffin's parents raised him strict, Footloose strict, no cellphone until he was a sophomore, no girlfriend until he was 17. He therefore channeled all his teenage hormonal vim into books and sports, earning A's and starring on the football team, basketball team, track team. The Bo Jackson of Copperas Cove. Except that young Griffin loved basketball best, as did you. He idolized Jordan and intended to overtake him. "I told my dad I was going to be the best basketball player in the world," Griffin says. RG2 promptly took 3 to the nearest playground and made him dribble for hours with his off hand. Reminiscent of other athlete patriarchs (Woods, Williams, Agassi), dad also made son do something called 400-hurdle breakups. "You put this in there, everyone's going to want to do it," Griffin says, smiling, because he knows that no one's going to do this. "You run one hurdle, come back. Run two hurdles, come back. By five hurdles you've run 200 meters. Then come back: 225 meters." And so on.
Dad also made him sprint, while yoked to a tire, up a steep hill somewhere in Copperas Cove, which is known for its hills. "It was ridiculous," Griffin says. "But it worked."
It worked so well, Griffin just missed qualifying for the Olympics. Nevertheless, he eventually gave up track, gave up basketball, yielded to the local hegemony of football. "In Texas you play football," he says. "You don't play basketball. You play football." When it came time for college he told coaches that he was committed to football, and that he wanted to be a quarterback. He certainly had the résumé to back it up. He'd led the Copperas Cove Bulldawgs to the state championship game twice. Only one coach, however, saw him as a quarterback. Only one vowed without hesitation to let him play whatever damn position he wanted. That coach was Art Briles, University of Houston. "He didn't have to convince me," Briles says. "I watched him."
But at the first camp, seeing Griffin practice for the first time, Briles changed his mind. He told his staff that Griffin wasn't just a quarterback, he was the best quarterback in the nation. "We got to hide this guy," Briles remembers telling them. "He's different."
Somebody at Houston should have hidden Briles, because Baylor soon came calling, and he jumped to the bigger program. Griffin followed, and their collaboration soon turned into the stuff of storybooks. Briles told Griffin early on that he had a legit shot at the Heisman. Even for coachspeak, always larded with several scoops of bravado, this was breathtakingly insane. Baylor had never had a Heisman winner. Hell, Baylor had seldom had a winning season.
But Briles saw that Griffin was the rarest of the rare. He could run, throw -- and think. "You ask players a question," Briles says, "they give responses that really allow you to know with what depth they understand. Robert always had an answer to a question -- and then some. An answer and an idea. That's a different level."
In the fall of 2009, just when Briles and the fans in Baylor Stadium were starting to dream big, Griffin went down. Anterior cruciate ligament. The whole Baylor community took it hard (overnight, the stadium was half-empty, Griffin says), but Griffin took it to heart. He personalized the injury, made it his fault. "I saw how many people I let down," he says. "My head coach cried. My offensive coordinator cried. My offensive line coach cried."
Then he saw, beneath their sorrow, a genuine concern for him. "Not even worried about the season -- worried about me as a person & I saw that in their eyes."
It broke his spirit. It lifted his heart. Until that moment, Griffin says, he'd never embraced football. He'd always played full speed, all out, but he'd never cherished the game, not until it was taken from him. "I didn't love football before I tore my ACL. When I came back, I loved it."
He worked himself back into shape, then better shape, then beast shape, and kept on working. Even the night he won the Heisman, Briles says, he was pumping iron in the hotel gym in the wee hours. No one who understands the great ones should find this surprising, Briles adds. "We had a bowl game to prepare for!"
There are many connections between that Baylor injury and the one Griffin suffered last season against Seattle. Same knee, of course. Same threat to his career. But there's also this: When Griffin woke in the operating room, he once again saw his entire football family with tears in their eyes. The family members were different -- Dan Snyder, Redskins owner; Bruce Allen, general manager; Tony Wyllie, head of public relations -- but Griffin's feeling of gratitude was the same. "It's tough for professional athletes to trust anyone in this business," he says. "When the owner of the team, the general manager of the team, the PR director of the team, they're all there, that's how you know: I can trust these guys."
Of course, Griffin's real family was there too. Father, mother and his fiancée, Rebecca Liddicoat, holding his hand, kissing him. They'd all watched his surgery from the viewing room, and they looked traumatized. Only one person, however, had watched every minute; only one person was that strong. Griffin's mother. When Griffin saw her crying, that's when he fell apart. "What no one knew was, at the time of my first surgery I told my parents, I promised them: I'll never do this to you again. I'll never have a serious injury again and have you guys go through this emotional turmoil."
Thus, the first words he spoke as the anesthesia wore off: "I'm sorry."
As for blame, guilt, accountability, all the things DC fans want to know about -- Didn't they realize what was at stake? -- the buck stops with Griffin, he says Trumanesquely. Whether it's the quality of the sod at FedEx Field (which, that fateful day, had the consistency and texture of greased hay marinated in runny manure) or the decision-making of his coach, Mike Shanahan, Griffin isn't throwing anyone or anything under any manner of moving vehicle. "One thing [Shanahan] stressed to me," Griffin says, "is we have to be a close group. We can't let people outside penetrate that and create a rift. Have we talked about the season, the sequence of events that happened over the last four games and the playoffs? Yes. We have. That's something you handle internally."
But Kirk Cousins, the Redskins' talented backup, who relieved Griffin in the Baltimore game and again in the Seattle game, recalls eavesdropping on an intense sideline conference between Griffin and Shanahan: "Robert, you're clearly limping, you're not at full strength, do you think you need to come out? And I'm not quoting anybody, I'm just paraphrasing. And Robert's attitude was: I'm okay. I understand there's a limp, but I'm going to be okay. I brought us this far, I want to finish this thing."
Cousins adds: "I think it was tough for Coach Shanahan to tell him no. And it was tough for Robert to back down. Both of them were in a tough spot, each guy's word against the other."
Though Shanahan said recently that Griffin won't play until he's at full strength, Griffin's mind is locked and loaded and aimed at the Sept. 9 opener against Philadelphia. He's even got it keyed into his phone, as an appointment. His knee isn't there yet, but it's on pace, he says. Stronger every day. During a photo shoot, he moves with no apparent stiffness, breaking several times into silly spontaneous dances, rocking on the balls of his feet, rolling on his toes.
It sounds as if he's also using this time to rehab his thinking, to come to terms with the lessons of his injury. "People feel that I shouldn't have been playing in the game," he says, measuring his words with a T square and a protractor. "I totally understand what everyone is saying. With the way it looked and how it all played out, take the guy out of the game."
But people don't understand the primal impulses of an athlete: "Your survivor instinct kicks in. You're like, 'I'm a warrior. I'm a beast. I do all these things, I can push through adversity.'"
He acknowledges that he needs to work on moderating that instinct. "If I had another incident like the Ngata hit, I'm out of the game. You pull yourself out at that point. You learn from your mistakes."
What about the Seahawks game? "I don't feel like playing against the Seahawks was a mistake. But I see the mistake in it."
"With what happened and how everything was running -- you take me out. If that happened again next year, I'd come out of the game and sit until I was 100 percent healthy."
It feels, and sounds, like a big admission. Sit until healthy? The words seem to require an extra effort to speak, to hear. They go against his grain, his teaching. As a boy, he slept every night under a Bible verse, which his mother tacked in big sticky letters on the wall of his bedroom. No weapon formed against you shall prosper. No weapon. A boy could easily take that to mean he's invincible. Always protected. Indeed, the whole question of protection follows Griffin, trails in his wake. Protection, and lack thereof, has defined him thus far and may be what decides his future. His coaches didn't always protect him last year, his offensive line didn't always protect him, he didn't protect himself. Weapons were raised, they prospered. Is that why he lets himself be sequestered? Is protection a kind of Rosetta stone to Griffin, Mr. President, in the way that your detractors (and fans) say your absent father may be to you?
When he talks about his injury, it's striking to see how diplomatic Griffin tries to be. How political. He might strive to avoid politics, but the political somehow always finds him. You may remember that he'd barely learned his Redskins playbook last season before an ESPN commentator publicly called him a "cornball brother" and goaded him for not being black enough. (Many African-Americans were deeply offended, and the commentator's contract was not renewed.) When Griffin first learned about the "cornball" comment on Twitter, he thought about defending himself in a tweet, asserting his bona fides as a brother, but he decided there was no way to do so without sounding foolish. He remained silent.
He admits to reading Twitter closely, maybe too closely, though he swears he doesn't go near it after a loss. Still, he seems awfully well-informed about what critics, and cuckoos, say. It bothers him, and he doesn't bother to pretend it doesn't bother him -- all that meanness, especially when people try to be funny at the expense of someone who's suffered a defeat, a tragedy or an injury. (Why is it, Mr. President, that everyone on Twitter yearns to be Oscar Wilde or Dorothy Parker, and they all end up sounding like Jay Leno? Working the Catskills?) He doesn't seem to have the thickened hide required for his job. Then again, Mr. President, you don't have the most annealed epidermis yourself. You could talk to him about that too. It might be good for both of you.
If he dislikes criticism of himself, Griffin can't abide when friends are savaged. (Again, you must empathize. Everyone recalls your turning the White House backyard into an Appomattox-kumbaya-Woodstock-beer garden after Henry Louis Gates Jr. was detained by Cambridge cops.) When the Baylor women got bounced from the NCAA tournament, Twitter blew up with criticism of Brittney Griner, and Griffin leaped to her defense. "People love Brittney Griner," he says, "and people love to hate Brittney Griner. I feel like it's the same way with President Obama, and it's the same way with me."
Griner says her spirits soared when she looked down at her phone that day and saw, of all people, RG3, blasting away at her attackers. "For him to get on Twitter and have my back, and say some things I couldn't just say -- it meant a lot."
Laughing, she adds that though Griffin can be combative, his silly side, the side she often saw on campus, is the real him. "He's a bundle of joy. He's so funny. He can put a smile on your face just from having a conversation."
That side comes out instantly whenever Griffin's fiancée is around. They have a lovely vibe. Even in the midst of a crowd they seem alone, sending each other secret grins, meaningful glances. Their body language is full of dependent clauses. She looks at him, he smiles. He looks at her, he smiles. As good a definition of love as any.
That smile -- it's another key to Griffin's appeal. It's bigger than most smiles. And that hair: ditto. He's a man supremely and enviably comfortable with his outsize, unconventional appearance, and not comfortable in an egocentric way. He has swag, but not your typical swag; it's a notable lack of swag, which soon comes across as a more genuine kind of swag, more organic. (Organic Swag, in the same aisle as Cornball Brother at your local grocer.)
The hair, he says, began as a mild rebellion. His parents decreed that he couldn't wear it long until he left their house, so he grew it out the minute he left. His sister braided it the first time; his mother braids it best. Now it's his signature. He couldn't cut it if he wanted to. He'd be the Felicity of football. "People associate me with braids," he says. "It lets people with long hair say: Look, my long hair does not define me. Just because I have long hair and I'm African-American doesn't mean I smoke weed."
(If that doesn't sound political, Mr. President, I don't know what does.)
Griffin seems to bring every topic around to others, to what others might feel, what others might think. Indeed, friends say it's his first thought, and his last: others. He was deeply involved in charity work at Baylor. He discusses with Cousins the importance and mechanics of tithing. He responded powerfully to documentaries about poverty, hunger, sex trafficking, according to Linda Adams, his political science professor.
Starr recalls his first-ever interaction with Griffin. "He was sitting in that very chair, mounting an appeal of the dismissal of one of his comrades. He was a great lawyer. Very good lawyer." Starr pauses. "He did not win the appeal."
Mr. President, would it surprise you to know that in describing Griffin's manner, Starr reaches for the word "presidential"? From a man who once led the impeachment of a president, this has considerable resonance. And Starr isn't alone in using that word. When Briles, who predicted the Heisman, is asked about Griffin's future, he blurts: "President of the United States."
Which brings me to the next reason I'm writing you. When you talk to Griffin about your parallels, about the sequester, about developing a thicker skin, etc., you might ask about his career plans, because he might be more than your younger doppelgänger. He might be your successor.
Imagine, Mr. President, years from now. Griffin runs for governor of Texas. Who would bet against him? Highly educated, devoutly Christian, a native son, a Hall of Fame quarterback in the most football-crazed state in the union. It may seem high-flown, horse-before-the-cart kind of thinking, but if it's not in the back of Griffin's mind, why, I ask you, would he have learned Latin? Latin.
At the height of his college career, when his days were packed with football and schoolwork and charity and a girlfriend, Griffin voluntarily took an accelerated class in the language of Caesar. (Maybe he wants to be emperor. Robertus Griffinus Tertius.) Could it be that he wanted to know the language of the Founding Fathers, the language that refined and honed the genius of Jefferson and Adams?
His professor, Tommye Lou Davis, says Griffin was one of the finest students she's ever had, and the most conscientious. She remembers the first day of class. She arrived early, as always, and was shocked to find the school's star quarterback already there. It was early morning, he was coming from a two-hour workout, and yet he was waiting for her.
He then sat front and center (his seat in most classes, and in the Redskins' classroom) and methodically laid waste to Horace, Ovid, Virgil. His translations were perfect, Davis says. His declensions and conjugations sublime. And he found time and energy to tutor fellow students.
Davis describes a day when she handed back a stack of graded tests. Before opening his, Griffin turned to a student he'd been tutoring and asked in a whisper how the student had done. The student gave thumbs-up. Only then did Griffin smile, relax, check his own grade. To Davis, that was the epiphany, from the Latin epiphania. He cares, honestly cares, about others. Translation: He's not what we've come to expect from phenoms. "Robert is real," she says. "People are hungry for something real."
The realest people, however, often have the most trouble changing, Mr. President, and isn't that the ultimate danger for Griffin? If he's to succeed, mustn't he change? A little? In several ways? That's the final point I hope you'll make with him. Tell him to listen to his body more, his sponsors less. Tell him to tell his story -- freely, generously, fearlessly, holding nothing back -- the way he plays. Don't tell him for my sake, or your sake, or even his sake, Mr. President. Tell him for the sake of the man at the bus stop.
I was in your neighborhood recently, hoping in vain that someone from the Redskins might see me. One fine spring morning, walking near Dupont Circle, I spotted a man at a bus stop wearing a Griffin jersey. The cherry blossoms were in full bloom that day, and I tell you, Mr. President, this man was too. His jersey looked brand-new, and the golden 10 on his chest was sparkling in the spring sunshine like fresh mustard. Nothing else he was wearing looked new, or expensive, and yet this man was very proud. I've seen men in tuxedos look less proud.
In his left hand, the man was holding a book bag, and in the front pocket was a paperback, some kind of political treatise. I could only discern the word "Black" in the title. I tried to make eye contact with the man, but he was lost in thought, staring down the street, or perhaps I should say downfield. He was watching for the bus, or the pass rush, or both. I almost stepped in front of him and spoke to him. Almost. But I couldn't bring myself to break his reverie. I didn't feel that I had -- access.
I'll picture that man often in the coming months, as Griffin's career unfolds, or doesn't, as you do an end run around the sequester, or don't. For me that man was final and definitive proof that much depends on Griffin. Athletes like him are not buses; another one doesn't come along every 10 minutes.
I know, I know, it's only sports, it doesn't really matter, and these are dark times, filled with horrible things that do. But the more desperate life gets, the more essential the unserious things with which we briefly distract ourselves.
Sports helps us, some days, avoid the audacity of despair.
Just talk to him, Mr. President, that's all I'm saying. Griffin tells me you invited him to the White House to shoot baskets. Maybe then. Maybe while you're warming up. Five minutes, that's all it would take.
Or else maybe -- just a thought -- write him a letter.
It's old-fashioned, I know.
But sometimes the old ways are best.
A concerned citizen
cc: Robert Griffin III
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ESPN The Magazine: May 13, 2013