We know Robert Griffin III to be a gracious young man, a budding megastar appreciative of the physical gifts that enable him to impact others.
What he wrote Sunday on Twitter to thank fans for their unsolicited purchases from his wedding registry was a nice gesture. We like our heroes humble, and D.C. has no greater icon these days than RG3. To know he cherishes the jerky maker and the corn peeler and the napkins is reassuring.
But the picture Griffin posted with the thank-you message was a bad look. He posed lying on a pile of empty boxes, shrugging and smirking—a portrayal of a multimillionaire indulging in materialism, disconnected with the proletariat that worship him.
His words were classy. The picture, however, was excessive, and it chafed some of his 910,000 Twitter followers. Their exchanges ended poorly when Griffin tweeted a message that included, “They always say more money, more problems,” and “#DealWithIt.”
This first clash between Griffin and his public is the strongest evidence of an issue that has been simmering this offseason, one that some in the Redskins organization acknowledge: the seeds of an RG3 perception problem have sprouted.
It isn’t a crisis yet by any stretch. Griffin’s record-breaking jersey sales quantify his marketability. And considering that fans are buying him welcome mats despite a football contract that guarantees him more than $21 million, his popularity obviously is quite strong.
But the humility for which many adore Griffin has not pervaded this offseason, particularly on Twitter. And because the team and his handlers have extensively limited his media availability, the interpersonal interactions that endeared him to reporters last season have been replaced by distant snapshots on the micro-blogging site.
Griffin’s luster dims when he retweets others’ compliments, as he repeatedly has done. On May 4, he retweeted a person who tweeted to him, “You are an awesome human!” Two weeks earlier, he retweeted a man who wrote that his son can’t sleep without his Redskins-clad teddy bear, Robert Grizzly III. A simple thank you would have been the humble response.
This doesn’t mean Griffin is a bad person or can’t play quarterback. He’s barely 23 and adjusting to fortune and exploding fame while under the public’s high-powered microscope. He’s going to make mistakes, as he did Sunday, and we must meet those with some level of understanding.
Such scrutiny, however, goes beyond the “tyranny of political correctness,” which he decried in a cryptic tweet last month. The stakes are real.
Griffin might not care what others think. He’ll enjoy support as long as he trains hard, plays well and smiles for the camera. But how the public perceives Griffin has and will have financial consequences for him and the Redskins. More importantly, coaches’ and teammates’ perception of the franchise quarterback will impact his ability to lead them.
Limiting his exposure on Twitter is the starting point. The site can be extremely toxic when operated without the utmost awareness of how tweets might be interpreted. Griffin’s photo is the perfect example. Feedback is immediate and sometimes harsh, and whatever is published belongs to the web for eternity.
Griffin often uses the site well. He tweeted welcomes to Washington’s draft picks last month and frequently pumps up fans with motivational tweets about working hard and the team. If he wants to speak his mind about potentially divisive issues, he must be accepting of the consequences. And if he wants to perpetuate a perception of his humility, he at least should stop retweeting others’ compliments. Thanking them more privately requires a simple click on a different part of his screen.
Starting a charity also should be high on his list. This offseason is the perfect time for Griffin to establish roots here as a community servant. He’s lagging in that area, at least publicly, behind Russell Wilson, his 2012 Rookie of the Year challenger. Wilson is a national ambassador for the CR3 Diabetes Association, a cause dear to him because complications from the disease killed his father three years ago.
Griffin raised $33,000 in 15 minutes for the American Cancer Society earlier this month simply by autographing a pair of cleats and posing for 18 pictures. What a fine start. He could have an immeasurable impact on, say, military children and veterans here, in his childhood home of Central Texas and nationally.
Another important step begins Thursday, when Griffin is scheduled to meet with media who regularly cover the team. It’s the first such session on team property since Griffin was hurt in Washington’s playoff loss to Seattle on Jan. 6.
Griffin might not always shine in his tweets, but he almost always does in person. He knows he’s a star, he knows he’s a great athlete and he knows people love him — that has always been clear — but that does not detract from the warmth and authenticity with which he interacts with people.
He is a kind person who doesn’t flaunt his status to those physically near him. That is the genesis of his reputation for being humble. To experience that on a regular basis, as the public did last season because of his media availability, would restore perception of him as a grounded star athlete.
More specifically, how Griffin’s media session plays out Thursday will help determine whether the lollipops and rainbows of his rookie season are still in place. He’ll encounter a local media corps that hasn’t had much offseason access and is armed with a litany of questions about his right knee injury and rehabilitation.
Such are the burdens of fame, fortune and youth in the public eye. More money, more problems, indeed.
He can make all of this a minor footnote by increasing his awareness and taking a few easy steps. It’s certainly not too late. If not, those who don’t like it will just have to deal with it.