Oh, Robert Griffin III. I like you, even though you play for the hated Washington Redskins. You’re articulate and a fellow Texan. I feel pride seeing a black quarterback succeed in the NFL when that opportunity was blocked for so many decades because of the implicit and often explicit belief that black men weren’t smart enough to play the position or lead a team.
However, after watching yesterday’s playoff game against the Seattle Seahawks and listening to some of your postgame comments, I want to smack you upside the head.
I understand. Professional athletes are ultracompetitive. They have to be to in order to rise to the professional ranks. That competitiveness is their greatest asset, but it’s also their greatest weakness. They have such a myopic view of the world. They feel that if they don’t play in this ONE game, then the world is going to collapse around them. They don’t think about the repercussions their decisions can have on their lives long after their playing days are over.
When I was in graduate school, I took Sociology of Sport. While what we studied could often be classified as common sense, it was still eye-opening for me. At that point, I’d been a huge sports fan for over fifteen years and had been fully immersed in that culture and accepting of the cultural norms. The biggest cultural norm being hypermasculinity. If you listen to sports broadcasters during games or on Sportscenter, they’ll often call athletes who play through pain “real” men and ideal teammates, i.e. people we should aspire to be like. That attitude is so pervasive hardly anyone contradicts it, least of all the athletes who are putting themselves in harm’s way.
“You respect authority, and I respect Coach Shanahan,” you said after the game. “But at the same time, you have to step up and be a man, sometimes. There was no way I was coming out of that game.”
I know. You didn’t want to let down your team. An admirable quality, but knowing your limits and accepting them doesn’t make you less of a man. Being a man has nothing to do with playing a sport.
Here’s the thing. You just completed your first season. You have many more games to play and, if you’re lucky, championships to win. This one game was not going to put you in the Hall of Fame, but it had the potential to destroy any chance of that ever happening if your knee never fully recovers.
You weren’t giving your team the best chance to win playing on that bum knee (but since even your coach refused to acknowledge this fact, maybe I shouldn’t be so hard on you). And it was bum. It wasn’t something you could just walk off.
You are a man, even if you never step foot on a football field again. It’s time to make smart decisions that will benefit you and your team for years to come, not for one game or one season.
Real men understand the journey is long.