What people need to understand about Robert Griffin III is that he is not like other quarterbacks. He does not stand at a news conference lectern and spit mindless jargon as if a coach has shoved a tape recorder down his throat. He does not fib for the sake of "appearances." He has no filter. When he is asked a question his reply is honest and unedited.
"His answers are always black and white," said Dino Babers, the former receivers coach at Baylor when RG3 played there. "You guys are always looking for the gray area. There is no gray area with him."
And so when Griffin says – as he did at his weekly media conference on Monday – that he doesn't understand coach Mike Shanahan's decision to hold him out of the Washington Redskins' preseason games but will abide by it, that's exactly what he means. He doesn't like the decision, but he has to accept it. He was asked a question and he answered it as honestly as he could. By doing so, he lit a brushfire that is still blazing across the NFL.
Another quarterback probably would have avoided this. Another quarterback would have dodged the question (which was if he agreed with Shanahan's recovery plan for him) by mouthing some vague cliché like: "Everyone is working together … blah, blah, blah."
Griffin is not another quarterback. His most endearing trait can be his albatross. He is blunt. He doesn't lie. Since other players in his position would be less forthcoming, Griffin's answers sound strange, giving the sensation he is hiding something. They invite speculation, stretching from a rift with Shanahan to an irrational fear that backup quarterback Kirk Cousins is going to take his job, when the reality is RG3 was just answering a question.
"I can't b.s. that answer," Griffin said.
Most people would have.
Babers laughed as he spoke on the phone from his office in Charleston, Ill. on Thursday afternoon. He is the head coach at Eastern Illinois, which is where Shanahan was a quarterback four decades ago. More important, he is a trusted confidant of Griffin's, the coach whose name RG3 gives when asked who at Baylor knew him best.
"I mean really, this is classic Robert," he said.
Asked what he meant by that Babers continued.
"If he's asked something he's going to answer it," Babers said. "The reason people have so many problems trying to relate to Robert is that they are trying to compare them to some guy they know in the past. But with Robert there is no one you can compare him to. He's that unique."
Babers and Griffin still talk. But Babers doesn't have to be in Virginia to understand what is going on in Griffin's mind. All he has to do is watch one of the quarterback's media conferences or read a transcript of it later. The clues are in the words. Griffin was asked if he was wanted to play in the preseason games and he said, yes. He also said he didn't understand why he couldn't play in the games if his knee is fully repaired, yet he added that he realized Shanahan was the coach and so he will accept whatever Shanahan says.
"There is no political cover-up," Babers said. "If he makes a statement he can live by it. What you need to worry about is if you ask him a question and he says nothing. Then it was a pretty good question. He's not going to tell a lie so he won't say anything."
Babers was asked about a theory that is popular in Washington. It's a theory that says Griffin is unhappy with the way Shanahan used him last year, running him too much and exposing him to injury. Griffin has never directly said this but a couple of his comments can lead one to this conclusion. Babers chuckled into the phone.
"Anyone who says that does not know Robert," he said. "There is no animosity between he and coach Shanahan."
Something else about Griffin that people don't understand, Babers said, is that the quarterback is the son of military parents and as the child of military people he respects authority. He might not like Shanahan's decision to bring him along slowly this summer but he accepts it because it was made by his coach. As a player he must abide by what his coach tells him to do. He will not be insubordinate, even if his words can be interpreted that way. Such a thing is not tolerated in Griffin's family, Babers said.
Still, the problem with blunt honesty is that it usually leaves someone confused. It's an unexpected behavior in a sports world where people constantly mask their true feelings. The Redskins have made understanding Griffin difficult by limiting his public comments to a handful of media conferences that get covered as if they are presidential statements. This shines a brighter light on his words, leaving them to be parsed for a deeper meaning that simply isn't there.
On Tuesday, the day after he gave an honest accounting of how he thinks his recovery is going, Griffin had to come back to the same lectern and say he was not in a dispute with Shanahan.
"Yesterday, I voiced my opinion about it because I was asked about it," he said. "That's been twisted and turned and tried to put against this team and that's not what we want."
It was a needless clarification, not the first he has made as the Redskins' quarterback.
All he did was give some honest answers to a few straight questions.
As if anybody does that anymore.
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