Are Washington’s Black QB vs. Head Coach Problems Indicative Of Our Racial Legacy?

Contrary to what some might believe, theres not a single Black person that I know who enjoys talking about racism. But thanks to the NFL team in Washington, here we are yet again.

As is the case with most things, the situation is a lot more complicated than a simple case of Black and White. However, the history of our country is turbulent, so things get fuzzy for observers on the outside looking in.

The idea of racism is often locked into one group of individuals not liking another. But its far more nuanced and sophisticated than that extremely limited description. Racism is an idea, a way of thinking, a way of doing things and an embedded belief that has seen White people and their interests placed over that of Black people almost exclusively throughout the history of this country.

You have White males in positions of power. You have Black males, historically disenfranchised in America, working underneath them in the work place hierarchy and aware of their position historically and professionally. Most like to play like these scenarios exist without racial components, but race can potentially bleed into any aspect of American society, particularly in sports.

What we have witnessed in Washington D.C. since Dan Snyder took over the NFL franchise has given everyone with a discerning eye cause to pause. The name of the franchise being racist hate speech notwithstanding, we have the unfortunate case of RGIII. The former 2nd overall pick Robert Griffin III started off as would be savior of a proud NFL franchise that has been wallowing in the sewer of professional sports respectability for years. Prior to his arrival, the team hadnt made it to the playoffs in five years and hadnt advanced past the first round in seven years.

Before RG3 set foot in Chocolate City, the lightning rod for constant unfair criticism, Donovan McNabb, had just been run out of town and Rex The Wreck Grossman was under center for Washington for much of the previous season, leading to frustration and angst for fans, the team and owner Dan Snyder.

The Skins were so desperate for change that they traded away a 2012 First-Round Pick, a 2012 Second-Round Pick, a 2013 First-Round Pick and a 2014 First-Round Pick for the second overall pick that was used to select Griffin.

From the very beginning there were reports that Griffin was Dan Snyders pick and that Mike Shanahan would have rather gone in another direction.

The seeds of dissension were planted.  

But RG3 would have a helluva year. Running and throwing the ball and making the highlight reels almost every night. Robert Griffin III easily won NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year in 2012 and the spotlight was starting to be focused upon the Nation’s Capitol.

Then those seeds started to bear fruit.

RGIII re-injured the ACL on his right knee in the first quarter of the 2012 NFC Wildcard game versus the Seattle Seahawks, the same ACL he tore in college while at Baylor. Say what you will about RG3, the pro athlete who his own coach claimed cared more about endorsement deals than he did about learning to be a pro-style quarterback, but he continued to play.

Its easy to sit on our fat asses at home and say what we would or could do with a torn ACL but Griffin continued playing in excruciating pain up until the fourth quarter. That’s when he injured the knee yet again. Not even a Herculean pain threshold would be enough to keep him on the field. That season we saw Robert Griffin III at his best and thought it was only a matter of time before his knee would heal up and we would get to see him scare the heck out of opposing defensive coordinators for many years to come.

But that didnt happen.

The next season we sawa greatly diminished Griffin who could no longer outrun defenders and whose pocket presence was exposed as below average at best. What happened? What went wrong? Media leaks started painting Griffin as being difficult to get along with in the locker room. Head coach Mike Shanahan refused to adjust the offense to make it easier for Griffin, both factors which exacerbated the problems he was facing.

But there was more.

The problems between Griffin and Mike and offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan were well documented, but we must recollect that Shanahan also had beef with Donovan McNabb, who himself came off looking surly and over the hill after that sordid affair was all said and done. You really couldnt pulll the race card and be genuine in that assessment as McNabb was playing the worse football of his career and he was in the twilight of his career anyway.

So no one blinked an eye when the Shanahans made him look like garbage.

McNabb would speak of his treatment at the hands of Shanahan during a 2013 interview with Lavar and Dukes on 106.7 The Fan.

With me, he was trying to figure out ways of trying to move into the direction he wanted to with the cardiovascular, the two-minute drill, whatever it may be, then hed come back the next press conference and say I didnt mean that. What I was saying was we dont really get to work in the two-minute drill, which is another lie. And it was just so much where I think now at this point, he understands that the next direction for the Washington Redskins is for them to move without him, and Robert will still be there.

Now, with RG3 denying Shanahan accusations that he picked his own pays, thats two Black quarterbacks who basically called a future Hall of Fame coach a liar.

Lets not forget that Albert Haynesworth dialed out on the Redskins because of what he said were behind-the-scenes treatment at the hands of Shanahan. On the surface it was made to look like Haynesworth was lazy and uncooperative, but nobody knows exactly what was said and done except he and Shanahan.

The elder Shanahan threw major shade at RG3 whenever he got the chance and Griffins father, Robert Griffin II, threw major shade in the direction of the team whenever he got the chance. The start of the 2014 season was more of the same losing ways for Washington; there was so much talk about making him more of a pocket passer that people actually started to believe it.  He has a strong arm and a pretty high passer rating prior to the injury and lest we forget the 24 he scored on the Wonderlic at the NFL Draft Combine. Its not like hes a dummy so there was no reason to believe he couldnt learn to play differently and do what everyone else believed he had to do to be a successful NFL quarterback.

So fans had high hopes, hinging belief on reports that he rehabbed extensively through the summer; but it was immediately clear that Griffin wasnt the same player. His vaunted 4.41 speed and all-world agility were ghost.

A 3-10 start, plummeting rushing yards, lower passing accuracy and mounting losses led to Griffins first benching in favor of Kirk Cousins. But that wasnt enough for Mike and Kyle to keep their jobs.  

Although only a few media outlets ever mentioned the obvious racial dynamic, it was only speculative and in passing. But the barber shops and basketball courts were bristling with talk of how Griffin was yet another brother who was being undermined and set up for failure in the work place.

Mike Shanahan never had anything good to say about Griffin when he was with the Redskins and he continued bad-mouthing the franchise and Griffin up until as recently as August of this year. Thats more than 18 months after he was let go. Whats the problem, bruh? In the immortal words of Elsa from Frozen, Let it goooo.

In 2014 Washington started off with a fresh-faced hire in Jay Gruden who had been tabbed as something of a quarterback whisperer after helping shape Andy Dalton into a Pro Bowl caliber quarterback in Cincinnati with the Bengals.

In the beginning everything was all love and rockets as both Griffin and Gruden showed deference to one another in the press prior to the start of the season. But RG3 already had a reputation for being something of a primadonna under center and someone who would throw his teammates to the wolves after a loss. And so the tension began to build.

Former head coach Mike Shanahan went on record to say he felt undermined by both owner Dan Snyder and Griffin. He even went so far as to say Griffin called some of his plays unacceptable, something Griffin has since denied with vehemence. But to be fair, Griffin hasnt been without fault.

That throwing teammates under the bus thing? Yeah, he kinda did that. Remember this quote after a mid-November loss in 2014?

If you want to look at the good teams in this league and the great quarterbacks, the Peytons and the Aaron Rodgers, those guys dont play well if their guys dont play well. They dont. We need everybody. I need every one of those guys in that locker room, and I know theyre looking at me saying the same thing.

Again, he KINDA threw them under the bus, but not really seeing as though he included himself in the equation. But the likelihood of that going over well in the locker room was highly doubtful.

Griffin would later deny having intentionally blamed his teammates for the loss but the only person who likely believed him was the team owner.   

During 2013 RG3 was just plain subpar. 16 TDs, 12 INTs and 489 rushing yards. That was when Shanahan came up with the brilliant idea to bench a healthy but underperforming Griffin for Cousins. The Michigan State alum responded with 4 TDs and 7 INTs.

The following season saw Kirk get more time than he ever had before. In the six games (five starts) Cousins played in during the 2014 season he amassed 10 TDs, 9 INTs on 61 percent passing. Griffin had 5 TDs (1 rushing TD) and 6 interceptions while completing almost 70 percent of his passes in nine games (seven starts) in the same season. Cousins 10 TDs jump out compared to Griffins paltry five, especially so when considering he did it in three fewer games played than RG3, but 11 interceptions in fewer games is a damning number as well.

But to hear some tell it, Cousins was clearly better. Others like Mike Shanahan who said this in February of this year:

“Kirk Cousins will be a quarterback in the National Football League. Hell be a damn good quarterback in the National Football League. If its with Washington, or some other place, you will see, someday, people will say, Golly, why didnt we see this? Why didnt we give him more of a chance?”

A damn good quarterback, Mr. Shanahan? Hyperbole much?

Even with yesterday’s comeback win over the Bucs, Cousins had done very little to win such high-praise from someone of Shanahans stature. Maybe it was because he drafted Cousins, but he drafted Griffin too.  

Then we have to take into account that two Black quarterbacks and a one-time dominant defensive lineman basically called a future Hall of Fame coach a liar and nobody blinked. 

But once Jay Gruden came along all that was supposed to be water under the bridge. Yet it wasnt long before it was the same old song down on the Potomac once all the losing resumed, and RGIII became a target once again. 

During this past preseason Robert Griffin III suffered a concussion during a game against the Detroit Lions. He was sacked three times on five pass attempts, fumbled twice and got hit six times on eight dropbacks. It looked like the offensive line was just letting people through, treating him like pre-humbled Willie Beamon.

And Jay Gruden just watched it happen.

A week later, Gruden announced QB Kirk Cousins would be the starter for the rest of the season. Huh? So a man loses his job to a concussion? Again, its easy to connect the dots to say Gruden would have preferred to have had Cousins starting, yet another entirely to say it was for racial preference. Perhaps it’s a scenario where strong-willed Black males are bristling at the very idea of anyone telling them what to do. Maybe somewhere in the middle.

But when watching the praise rained down upon QB Kirk Cousins by Gruden relative to the borderline derisive things he has said about Griffin, we cant help but search for the deeper meaning. The numbers show Griffin, even in diminished state, was clearly a better player. Yet we hear things like this from Gruden in the Washington Post:

“Yeah I don’t know. I’ll have to look at the film. Like I said – also, it was little windy. But, and also, [there was] a lot of pressure on him. There’s a lot of things going on pre-snap that he’s got to deal with, getting the formations and protections and all that. You know last week the Jets had about 15 cover-zeroes [all-out blitzes] against Miami, so we’re always looking out for those and making sure he’s aware of those. They played pretty vanilla today, and I think he hurried in some throws he didn’t have to, or maybe he did. But I’ll have to look at the film. But overall, you hate to pin this game on Kirk.”

Compare that to what he said about Griffin after a Week 7 loss to Tampa Bay last year.

“Robert had some fundamental flaws. His footwork was below average. He took three-step drops when he should have taken five. He took a one-step drop when he should have taken three on a couple occasions and that can’t happen. He stepped up when he didn’t have to step up, and he stepped into pressure. He read the wrong side of the field a couple times.

” … it’s not even close to good enough to what we expect from the quarterback position.”

Could it be a simple change in his personal philosophy on handling the quarterback position? Could be, but it would be a smart idea for him to come out and say that if that’s what it is- for his sake and for the sake of his credibility among players in the locker room who are sensitive to the subject. Though they may not say it in the media there are certainly some who see it that way.

It would be for Cousins sake as well. That man just wants to play football and it would be a shame for the racial component of this discourse to sully his chance at proving hes a starting quarterback. But I am curious to see what Gruden will do in Week 13 if Kirk is struggling. He benched a healthy Griffin at the same juncture last season. 

On Sunday, QB Kirk Cousins led Washington back from 24 points down to defeat the youthful Tampa Bay Buccaneers. He celebrated and rightfully so. But we would be derelict in not recalling Cousins has nine TDs and eight INTs on the season, but three of those touchdowns came on Sunday. 

Seems like a lot more is forgotten that needs to be recalled down in Chocolate City.

Lastly, there is a strong possibility that this situation has nothing to do with racism. However, when your owner has been accused of being a racist, and your former head coach being alluded to as being racist by former players, it would be smart money for your current head coach to make sure nothing is misconstrued along racial lines. Up to this point he has not.

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