In an upcoming article for GQ magazine, Brendan Vaughan, an executive editor for magazine, and self-professed Redskins zealot, is but one of many within Redskins’ nation who, throughout this upcoming season, will be watching with bated breath as the team’s brightest star—its “bright and morning star,” perhaps—attempts to return, triumphantly, from a devastating knee injury.
RG3 is no stranger to the media spotlight. He has endorsements deals with such companies as Adidas, Nissan, and Gatorade. He has also been featured in a number of well-known periodicals —ESPN the Magazine and Sports Illustrated, to name a few—well before this GQ cover story. Even Vaughan himself, according to Washington Post’s Dan Steinberg, wrote a piece just last year in which he proclaimed that the young football phenom was no mere flesh and blood athlete but an “animatronic football god of the future.” And you know what? He was right.
But what makes RG3 so godlike, anyway? Has he performed any miracles? Can he turn, say, Gatorade into wine? No. He is just a good old fashioned physical specimen—just check-out his impressive NFL scouting combine numbers, a score of 95 out of a possible 100 points—who is believed to possess the power to resurrect a dead franchise.
And on draft night 2012, the Washington Redskins chose this “impossibly gifted quarterback,” Vaughn’s words, as the second pick overall. The chosen one, the player that could save the franchise, was coming to D.C. The Redskins’ prayers were answered, at least it seemed so.
In many ways the Redskins’ drafting RG3 portended an ominous future. Let’s be honest, the whole “saving” the franchise thing rarely, if ever, works out. It’s so much—s-o-o-o-o much—pressure on the athlete, no matter how graced with talent he or she may be. Sure there are many examples of players, in a number of different sports, who turned franchises around, but the few who have made such an impact usually don’t walk-in on the first-day with the overwhelming expectation of doing so.
Don’t believe me?
When Michael Jordan, a divine player if there ever was one, was drafted by the all too mediocre Chicago Bulls in 1984, no one thought he would save the franchise. Be a good player, yes, but not save the franchise. Even his own coach at the time, Kevin Loughery, didn’t believe he would have that great of an impact on the team because he didn’t play the center position. This lack of faith in his redemptive prowess, though, instead of a hindrance, afforded him the latitude to mature into the tongue-wagging, air-flying, championship-winning (now lousy-team-owning) sports-deity we know today. It seems that athletes should be afforded a period of maturation so that they might grow into their “salvific” stature. Rather than foisting it upon them long before they are ready.
But the die-hard fanatics, like those found among the Redskins’ fan base, the ones who spend hundreds of dollars for sports TV packages, and hundreds more for high-priced game tickets, are not willing to wait for this maturation process. His putting up record breaking numbers, for a rookie quarterback, for instance, a 102.4 passer rating, wasn’t enough. And a trip to the playoffs last year has only made them thirsty for more. They want assurance that the savior has, in fact, delivered them from shame of a losing sports franchise—and they want it NOW.
Needless to say, young athletes like RG3 are left to face insurmountable pressure to meet mythic expectations. It doesn’t help, of course, that many within the media, the experts, have guaranteed that he would lift the Redskins to heights of success not seen since the halcyon years of the Joe Gibbs era. And last year, he did pretty much live up to the hype. But, oh, did it cost him. From an early-season concussion to the season-ending knee injury in the playoff game versus the up surging Seattle Seahawks (with a more than capable young quarterback of their own, Russell Wilson). Not to mention that he played his rookie season in the NFL’s rough-and-tumble NFC East division, filled with the Eagles and the Cowboys and the Giants—Oh My!
When it was all over RG3 had endured the equivalent of the NFL’s Via Dolorosa. He sure has the wounds to prove it. Some of the injuries, Vaughan says, could’ve (or should’ve) been avoided if it wasn’t for the dangerous zone-read-offense that incessantly puts RG3 in harm’s way.
However, Vaughan also points out that some of the blame must surely fall on RG3 himself. He is, after all, a player who seems to throw caution to the wind, to enjoy an occasional dance with danger.
Is he trying too hard to live up to the hype? Is he trying too hard to save the Washington Redskins? Or is he just trying too hard to make sure that he doesn’t become yet another failed sports messiah? Only he knows the answer to such questions.
However, the time for self-reflection has passed. A new football season is upon us. And in reading Vaughan’s article, one finds that RG3 will have an arduous time this season carrying the weight of the prayers of the Redskins’ fanbase, the hopes of his teammates, and his own expectations all on his twice-repaired right knee. But carry it he will.
How long he will be able to do so, however, remains a mystery. He’ll have to put his repaired right knee, and the rest of his body, in the hands of a higher-power now.
Maybe this is something that RG3 and his mother, Jackie, could pray about during one of their weekly meetings during this season. Vaughan reports that this is usually a time set aside when Jackie braids her son’s hair and they also have some alone time to reflect about their “maintaining a constant relationship with God.” Surely in the midst of their prayers they can request that while RG3 attempts to fulfill his putative destiny as the savior of the Redskins he doesn’t destroy himself as he tries, with all his might, to live-up to this outrageous “savior of the franchise” myth.
In the meantime, Redskins fans, including Mr. Vaughan, better pray—and pray hard—that he makes it through this season carrying this heavy burden.
Jay-Paul Hinds is assistant professor of pastoral care, practical theology, and psychology of religion at Howard University School of Divinity.