Robert Griffin III — also known as RG3 — has in just seven games solidified himself as the most promising young quarterback in the NFL. His unprecedented marriage of accurate pocket passing and lightning-quick scrambling ability is the embodiment of the long-anticipated, but heretofore unmaterialized, evolution of the professional quarterback. Michael Vick is just as adept at passing, as running. And for this, he is loved by the fans, media and fellow players alike.
What’s most interesting to me is the response RG3 gets from fellow players. This past week, after a narrow loss to the Giants, RG3’s performance was described with surprising reverence by his opposition.
While the Giants are known to be, let’s say, chatty about their opponents in the media, it is almost never in a positive light and even more rarely in such respectful and awed tones as heard after this game.
One player said Griffin was by far the best quarterback they’d faced this year and another rued the football gods for putting a player that talented in their division. After one particularly stunning fourth down conversion, where RG3 eluded at least three Giants defenders, only for him to finally find an open receiver right before getting hit, Perry Fewell, the Giants’ defensive coordinator, could only shake his head, smirking widely at the athletic display before him.
The only player I recall hearing other players praise, with this much effusion, was Vick, the previous king of the hybrid quarterback throne. Vick was probably the single most popular football player in the black community in his hayday.
Many of the young players in today’s league grew up idolizing his brand of artistic, swagged-out improvisation routines, both those real and recreated in video game form.
I remember a story from couple years back, during the height of Vick’s post-prison renaissance, when one player actually asked for Vick’s autograph after a game.
While it’s true that much of the reverence shown to Vick over the years and Griffin now stems from their undeniable entertainment value and successful actualization of the hybrid NFL quarterback, I think their race also plays a big part in how other players in particular respond to their success.
Football is predominately black at most positions, with the most glaring exception being at quarterback. As everyone knows, the quarterback holds the unique status of being the most important player and presumed leader of the football team, both on the field and in the public’s eye. Just as well known are the commonly-voiced concerns about the lack of black representation at this most important position.
While I wouldn’t go so far as to say black players resent the lack of black quarterbacks, the discrepancy is noted. The position itself is a hotbed for the sort of racialized attributions — quarterbacks are “intelligent leaders” with “strong work ethics” — that undoubtedly annoy many players who see their skills marginalized as innate and unearned.
And the team itself — segregated on positional and racial lines — is supposed to coalesce around a player and often a coach resembling only a few of them as the ultimate captains of the ship.
So, it should be no surprise when other players see a quarterback that looks like them — doing what so many assumed they couldn’t and take special delight in it. Not only that, but he is fulfilling the prophecy of the future black quarterback able to merge — mind and body — in equal measures into an unstoppable force that will revolutionize the sport.
It also should not be lost that RG3, like Vick in Atlanta, is doing all of this in Washington, D.C. — one of the few American cities primarily defined by its black culture. The outsized praise for an opponent does not look so unexpected when you see what he represents in their minds.
Because of the promise Robert Griffin III has already shown, I do not think it is an over statement to say that, at this pace, he is on his way to becoming an iconic black athlete.
He already has the fervent support of a franchise, the public and his fellow peers. Let’s hope that environment helps him reach his immense potential.
William Haisley is a third year law student and is the Collegian’s Wednesday columnist. Email him at email@example.com