RGIII and the Crisis of Liberalism in the United States

Eugene Robinson, the Washington Post’s Pulitzer Prize-winning liberal political columnist, wrote that he knows who is to blame for Washington Redskins superstar quarterback Robert Griffin III’s horrific knee injury. He has seen the culprit and it is us. Reaching for a cliché with more age than the jokes at the White House Correspondents Dinner, Robinson writes, "If you are a football fan and are appalled by what happened Sunday and want to find someone to blame, look in the mirror."

At first I shrugged off this analysis as a top-columnist venturing out of his comfort zone to discuss a topic that had all of Washington buzzing, and falling flat. But Robinson's analysis actually reveals more than the liberal lion intended. It may say little about how RGIII was hurt, but it says so much about the Washington consensus liberalism that Robinson so ably represents.

There was a time when progressives, as a point of principle, made an effort to side with the people against the tyrannical and corrupt. The best of Bob Herbert, Jimmy Breslin or Molly Ivins, always makes clear that the fish rots from the head and the Beltway wisdom that “you get the government you deserve” served only to shield those in positions of power. But times have changed. Now, if you criticize President Barack Obama; if you say that armed drones and kill-lists shouldn’t be part of US foreign policy, or that a negotiated austerity is nothing to cheer, or criticize anyone but Republicans, 21st century liberals like Robinson see their role as blaming you for hobbling the President, weakening his hand, and making the situation worse.

This shift of liberalism’s focus is seen so clearly in Robinson’s analysis of what happened to RGIII last Sunday. Robinson writes that the transcendent rookie was injured because, “It is the fans — in the stands and in front of their television sets — who have made football our national sport. Risk and injury are not just a part of the game, they are at its heart.” This analysis might seem to make sense to some on the face of it, but it’s really just hot air that actually obscures the role that powerful people played in making RGIII’s injury an inevitability.

If Eugene Robinson would only turn his gaze away from all of us, he’d see that fault actually starts not in the stands but in the owner’s box with Redskins boss Dan Snyder. Snyder is a billionaire and despite years of terrible decisions, mediocre finishes, and a franchise brand that’s racist as all hell, the Redskins are the third most valuable organization in the National Football League. Even though Snyder holds this reservoir of resources, the field on Sunday was in conditions that would shame a public high school. As Chris Chase ofUSA Today wrote, “FedEx Field's turf was a dangerous embarrassment on Sunday. Before the game even started, there were bald patches between the hashmarks and sloppy turf near midfield. Once play began, conditions quickly got worse. Multiple Redskins slipped on the team's first possession. When their feet slid, chunks of grass would fly up like after a golfer hitting a 9-iron…. Players didn't need cleats, they needed work boots.”

The quality of the natural grass turf not only claimed RGIII, but also Seahawks pass rushing specialist Chris Clemons who tore his ACL and is now out of action indefinitely. The conditions at FedEx Field have been an issue for years, with Minnesota Vikings superstar Adrian Peterson tearing every ligament in his knee last season on the same turf. The league should have long ago sanctioned Dan Snyder for putting players at risk. Now, his penny pinching has jeopardized the face and future of the franchise. If nothing else, this nationally televised OSHA violation should have been front and center in Eugene Robinson’s column, but neither the field nor Snyder are even mentioned.

Then there is Coach Mike Shanahan. Robinson’s column is actually framed as a defense of Shanahan’s decision to keep RGIII in the game after a first quarter injury made the already ailing quarterback a limping, ineffective mess. The column is actually titled, “Don’t blame Shanahan for leaving RGIII in the game.” Shanahan, in Robinson’s mind, was just enacting the will of the fans to see RGIII squeezed dry until he was twitching husk on the stadium’s torn-up turf. This is beyond garbage. I watched the game with people who bleed the team colors of burgundy and gold and they were screaming at the television after the first quarter to take RGIII out of the game. They were suffering with every limp, every hobble, and every agonizing step the quarterback took. They wanted him out of there not just because he was completely ineffective and the team has an able backup in Kirk Cousins.  They knew that he is the future of this team and that future needed to be protected. They’ve also grown to love the rookie and didn’t want to see him in pain. The imperative to sit RGIII was obvious to everyone but Shanahan. Former Washington Wizards Etan Thomas, in a terrific column on the Post’s website called “Robert Griffin III: An Open Letter” describes the reaction of his seven-year-old super-fan son Malcolm who said, "If RGIII is hurt and playing, couldn't he get hurt more? Look at his face daddy. He is in pain. Why is he still playing if he is in that much pain?" Shanahan froze and didn’t protect his player, costing his team the game and perhaps costing the franchise its star. After the game, the veteran coach was even worse, saying that he kept RGIII in the game because the 22-year-old demanded to keep playing. What a profile in courage. As sports columnist Tom Boswell wrote in the Post, “If ever a veteran coach needed to accept responsibility for the reins of a player, it was Shanahan over Griffin in this game. Yet he simply passed the buck to his player.”

Even worse, USA Today is reporting that Mike Shanahan has openly misrepresented what team orthopedist Dr. James Andrews said to him about RGIII’s knee. As they reported, “Andrews insisted he never cleared Griffin to return to a game in which Griffin initially injured his knee, even though coach Mike Shanahan again tried to lay the responsibility on him.” If this is true, then Mike Shanahan should never work in the NFL again. If it’s true it’s also a horrific example of a person in authority abusing their power. Once again, this is something Eugene Robinson could have discussed. Instead, just as Shanahan passed the buck to RGIII, Robinson passed the buck onto us.

Yes, football is a game unsafe at any speed. Yes, it’s governed by a toxic macho ethos that makes injuries like we saw Sunday inevitable. But there are real flesh and blood people we can hold to account for what took place. There was a time when we could count on liberals with a public platform to be a part of this fight. That era is starting to look as outdated as calling a team the Redskins or as much past its prime as a certain 60-year-old-coach. If there is going to be a real fight against power and privilege, not just in sports but in politics, it’s might be time to champion some new fighters.

18 Reader Comments | Add a comment

Blame the victim(s)...again

I know I am not alone in feeling traumatized after witnessing RG3's suffering and exploitation. His joy, charisma, and skill had actually rekindled my ebbing interest in NFL football. Glad the season is almost over...don't know if I'll be watching next year.

Monday morning QB

but the conservative decision to protect Strasburg's health and not use him in the playoffs was "Indefensible"??


Clearly not the same situation but similar enough to warrant some humility in the judgement of these decisions.

Comrade Zirin is all over the board

One day Zirin attacks the baseball manager for NOT playing Strausburg in the playoffs, then attacks the football coach FOR playing RGIII.

What a clown . . . . Zirin is like the Nancy Grace of sports reporting . . . . an opportunistic demagogue.

Griffin, Shanahan both in tough spots

From the looks of it, Griffin should not have played on Sunday, but he may well have kept himself in the game to his detriment. LaDanian Tomlinson and Jay Cutler took themselves out of playoff games, and both took heat for it. RGIII has feelings, and is not oblivious to ambient criticism. Can't ignore that when you consider Robinson's column.

Consider also, that Washington drafted Griffin and 'able backup' Kirk Cousins the same year. RG missed games in college due to injuring the same knee. What if he benches Griffin, Cousins wins a playoff game, and Griffin loses his starting job indefinitely, for fear that he can't stay healthy? Football is a competitive endeavor. Salaries are mostly not guaranteed. Playing time and starting roles are definitely not guaranteed. If these things had happened, would you applaud Shanahan for sparing Griffin's knee or blast him for pulling a job out from under him?

If Dave Zirin is like Nancy Grace. . .

Then it's safe to say Tornado is the Alex Jones of this site. America's Favorite Conspiracy Theorist--just ask him, he'll tell ya. And you can also include his partner in crime, jjdynomite.

Come to think of it--could Tornado and jj be one and the same? Nahhhh--couldn't be. Sure is great to laugh at them though.

No More Gladiators

Robinson is wrong to say that fans caused Gene Robinson's injury. However, there is a problem with football's fan culture. Fans are refusing to listen to evidence about the risks of playing an "ordinary" game of gridiron football. This site has documented widespread fan neglect of facts and decency at Penn State and Notre Dame. Many college students have made football their priority. A game that started as a bloodsport has metastasized further. It's time to turn away from the whole thing. Colleges and High Schools need to drop their programs because something has gone wrong.

And the winner is...

DZ blames the liberal culture being aided by the greedy capitalists. All this confirms my second country of choice(since I'm a jingoist America is still number 1) which of course is North Korea. All the stadiums are publicly owner, just as DZ likes it, heck even the people are publicly owned. There are no millionaires because everyone is a millionaire. What a Nirvana.

This is stupid article

Both Robinon's column and Zirin's column are utterly stupid. It sucks that RGIII got injured and I hope that he comes back healthy as ever next season but to quote the Godfather, "This is the business we have chosen." Injuries are a part of sports and frankly a part of life. Derrick Rose is going through the same thing and Dave didn't write a column about how Thibadou is to blame. Daves' got a bug up his ass for football for some reason so anything that happens to any football player is not their fault. I wouldn't be surprised if he found a way to say Brown Jr isn't to blame to his teammate's death. Playing sports comes with a risk and if you want to play you have to know that risk. Remember RGIII played 2 games after his initial injury and didn't get injured, I didn't hear you whining then. Hindsight is 20/20 so of course looking back you'd say he shouldn't have played but if he didn't get injured you wouldn't have said a word. He planted his foot wrong and it was a stroke of bad luck, it happens. Nobody forced RGIII out there he wanted to play. Players come back from injury to soon all the time why is this case SO different?

Et Tu Eugene Robinson

Thanks Dave, for calling out the otherwise- insightful Eugene Robinson.

By blaming fans, rather than rapacious owners---and their complicit/compliant coaches---for RGIII's plight---Mr. Robinson could not be further off the mark.

When progressive journalists draw such ludicrous conclusions, Dave is absolutely correct in asserting that liberalism in the US truly IS in crisis.

ludicrous conclusions?

Is the state of Wisconsin rapacious when Green Bay players get injured or concussed, or are the Redskins uniquely culpable in situations such as these? Aaron Rodgers has suffered concussions and played the following Sunday. If he has brain seizures in 10 years, which greedy owner do you blame? Most of the college football programs in Division I are state schools. Were Tyler Wilson's and Sam Bradford's injuries less serious because they happened in service to athletic programs that are part of a public trust?

You could expand Robinson's point about public appetite for the sport and the violence that often goes with it beyond just Shanahan, the Redskins, Snyder, or any other entity in sports that you may happen to dislike. If you confiscated the Redskins from Snyder, renamed them the Monuments, and gave one share to every man, woman, child and their dog, and prevent anybody from acquiring too many or earning dividend income from sale, players would still play hurt and hide the extent of their injuries.

American football is not the most violent sporting event ever invented, but we know it carries certain health risks, we play it and we watch it. What exactly is there to 'call out' for Robinson?

Please explain

I think it would help, Dave, if you provided us with more info on why Strasburgh sat. Was there any sign of injury or a fatigued arm that could not go on? Was it purely based on inning or pitch count? On the face of it, your argument here makes perfect sense and the Strasburgh affair sounds like a whole different situation.

Different situation

The Strasburg decision was not based on injury, but on the nonsensical idea of maximum innings. Consequently, it is very different from the case of RGIII, who clearly had been hurt.
Odd that so few criticizing DZ in this manage to mention his commentary on the condition of the field.

Rapacious as in Too Cheap to Fix the Field

Aaron, Mr. Snyder can sell beer in bathrooms to line his pockets, but won't spend it to see that the playing field is in the best possible shape.

Yes, it is a dangerous, violent game, but Snyder has an obligation to minimize such dangers by taking reasonable steps.

I'm "calling out" Eugene Robinson for mistakenly blaming the fans' encouragement as a reason for RGIII's continuing to play, despite a serious injury. In reality, Snyder's greed played a much larger role in causing and worsening that injury.

As Balzac once said "...behind every great fortune is a great crime..." and guys of Snyder's ilk always think $$$ first and humanity last.

Thanks for the excellcent suggestions:

"If you confiscated....(racist named deleted...DC's professional football team) from Snyder,
renamed them the Monuments,
and gave one share to every man, woman, child and their dog,
and prevent (sic) anybody (sic) from acquiring too many or earning dividend income from sale..."
Yes, all fans deserve to have all teams be municipally owned. Funds will be spent to maintain safe playing conditions rather than luxury boxes for the !%. And, taxpayers will be spared from just another corporate welfare scam enriching scumbags like Dan Snyder.
This, of course, is particularly true for the beleaguer residents of the colony know as WDC. If DC can't have statehood, at least, they should own their own sports teams.

path of least resistance

Dave u are so on the money again. Liberalisms tendency is to always blame the people,the perceived path of least resistance. Banks collapse? Blame stupid homebuyers. Record police abuse/shootings? Blame baggy pants and hoodies. Perpetual war economy? Blame american consumerists thirsts. Baseballs slump was broken by performance enhancing drugs taken by players that generated millions for baseballs owning class and when the fit hit the shan,blame the players.
Blame players,citizens and victims ie; the path of perceived least resistance. Everyone and everything but competition and capitalism. The FUNCTION of liberalism? To protect ,defend and block for the owners/owning class running and mostly gunning for billion dollar touchdowns!

It's Snyder's Investment

Sure, injuries are a part of sports, but that doesn't mean that players, coaches, and owners shouldn't leave as little to chance as possible. It's not possible to prevent every injury that results from playing under normal circumstances, but the field on FedEx has been far from normal for some time. It was entirely within ownership's ability to fix it. But Daniel Snyder was too cheap and, as a result, his star quarterback and future of the franchise got hurt. If Griffin can't make a full recovery, then Snyder will look like an ass once again.

it's capitalism stupid

What Zirin writes here is absolutely true. It is absolutely true for every working person in America and everywhere else in the Empire.

fake hublot

Picking Corum is deciding upon 1 sleek life-style.

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Dave Zirin is the author of the book: "Welcome to the Terrordome: The Pain, Politics and Promise of Sports" (Haymarket). You can receive his column Edge of Sports, every week by going to dave@edgeofsports.com.
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