**Note** This post is a follow-up to our pre-draft assessment of Robert Griffin III in “Intangibles,” which looked at the racial elements behind some of the characterizations of the QB and the QB he rivaled for the top spot, Andrew Luck**
Count me among the surprised at the amazing season Sir Robert Griffin III has turned in thus far. I predicted that the young man would do very well and would blossom into a star, but I had no idea he would do so so quickly. He is in the top ten in the league in passer rating and completion percentage, is in the top 20 in rushing yards, number two in rushing TDs, and has quickly changed the culture of the Redskins to one where the team and its fans fully expect to win on any given Sunday. No small feat, considering the trade deadline on his first season has not yet passed. While it’s early, and there is certainly a good chance for regression of both his statistics and personality (see, Cam Newton, whom I’ll be writing about soon), I think we can all say this kid looks legit and has all of the “intangibles” required to be a star on and off the field. He’s got the knowledge, the savvy, the skills, the physical tools, and the charisma to be a generational QB, a player with the transcendent physical tools of a Mike Vick, but with the polish to appeal to majority sensibilities. He could **cliche alert** legitimately make a run for office one day (2012 code for “that Black kid can speak and behave himself well). But let me stop gushing. Just know that I feel vindicated here.
And on to Mr Griffin’s foil in sports culture, Andrew Luck. The Stanford Cardinal has had a marvelous short run in the league as well, with amazing passing (and rushing) stats of his own, numbers which rival or surpass RG3’s, and has also helped rebuild a winning culture in Indianapolis, which was utterly directionless after the demigod Peyton Manning went down with a neck injury last year. In my eyes, they are 1 and 1a of rookies, with no clear distinction between the two. The race for rookie of the year is neck and neck, with Luck’s chances perhaps having a boost given his team’s higher chances of a postseason finish. There’s the candidacy of RG3’s own mate Alfred Morris, and the far-off dark horse possibility of Russell Wilson and a playoff push from the Seahawks (the year of the Black QB has been a mixed bag so far), but it seems that Luck and Griffin are obviously the lead actors here. I think the fact that it is so hard to discern which one is better reinforces the point I made in Intangibles, that all of the analysts giving a boost to Luck for “intangibles” and discounting RG3 for lacking those same mysterious elements were making an assessment based entirely on nonexistent structures. If you haven’t figured it out yet, I’m talking about race. Half of a season down, and what else could you ask of RG3 in terms of leadership and off-the-field prowess?
I just moved to DC, and I really haven’t seen anything like the RG3 phenomenon. I know big markets with big payrolls tend to latch on to savior-type players, especially when they haven’t won for a while, but it’s far beyond what I expected. Perhaps it’s from me being from NC, where we suffer professional sports failures with a stoic air of expectation and have trained ourselves to forget about potentially transcendent sports figures that we inevitably lose (call it Kobe syndrome), but I’m pretty sure this 22 year old with schoolgirl plaits is more famous in the nation’s capital than its President. I’ve seen the guys who pass out the Express on the Metro dap each other up using “RG3” as a salutation. I’ve seen dogs with RG3 jerseys and fake braids. I’ve seen Nation of Islam brothers using RG3 alongside the “As-Salaamu `Alaykum” greeting. I’ve seen RG3 carved jack-o-lanterns on porches at Halloween. Only one of the things is made up.
Is this guy already the most popular player in his respective home market in the NFL? I was in Atlanta during Vick time and this dwarfs it. RG3 has consistently been the number one or two most popular player in the league according to jersey sales. I know it’s probably easier for a city like Washington, DC to embrace a QB like RG3, just like it was easier for Atlanta to embrace Vick (in fact, both are part of the traditional handful of “Black QB teams”-Philly, Atlanta, Minnesota, and Washington), but his star power means something. Especially since that star power comes from an origin story that is wholly unlike the stories of destruction and dysfunction in Black athletes that sportswriters love to exploit for word counts, but also unlike those of the traditional stars at the position. I’m just happy to see this kid succeed, and I’m glad to be here while it happens. I think he’ll go a long way towards righting one of the more glaring racial/ethnic disparities in perception in sports, and hopefully I’ll be able to look back at the first post I wrote on him and say I predicted the whole thing.