This is exactly what we should expect from a society that invented selfies.
These days, it’s easy to fall in love with being loved. The goal isn’t to do something, but to be known for something. Images become more important than the reality they’re supposed to portray. “Celebrity” becomes an industry of its own.
Robert Griffin III and Colin Kaepernick were supposed to be renaissance men in the NFL. They would revolutionize the sport and redefine what a quarterback could do. Instead, they have become cautionary examples of too much, too soon.
In just two years, they have reduced themselves to this: RG III isn’t good enough to get on the field, and in the past few days, Kaepernick’s opponents have called him a “chump” while fans have started burning his jersey. Kaepernick and Griffin are the NFL’s one-hit wonders.
“I just can’t believe how quickly his star has fallen,” former Washington linebacker London Fletcher said about RG III on SiriusXM radio. “He couldn’t do any wrong. He was on T-shirts with the president and just all kinds of things…some of it, he’s brought on himself.”
ESPN’s Jason Whitlock was a little less diplomatic:
Kaepernick can keep focusing on tattoos and his abs. He’s torching his football career.
— Jason Whitlock (@WhitlockJason) November 28, 2014
We’ve seen enough of these one-hit wonders in sports or music to know the story: They’re either complete flukes, or they have the talent, but are ill-equipped to handle the trappings of fame. RG III and Kaepernick were both plenty talented – making things happen with sheer athleticism, avoiding trouble and keeping defenses off balance with the threat of the run. This was going to be a revolution, remember?
But it hasn’t really turned out that way, and now, both are at career crossroads. They got here in part due to bad luck, but also because of the unfair expectations we heaped upon them. We were so excited about their style and their approaches to playing the quarterback position. Mix that with our constant search for the “Next Big Thing,” the immediacy of social media and our love of celebrity, and it’s easy to see how we got to this point. There was already crazed attention and magazine covers and endorsement deals – who wouldn’t have thought that all added up to substance?
RG III had the bad luck. In his rookie year, he threw for 3,200 yards and led Washington to the playoffs. But when he was hurt, he was still playing. He famously convinced coach Mike Shanahan to let him stay in a playoff game against Seattle, and next thing you knew he was having reconstructive knee surgery. Griffin hasn’t been the same since that injury, seemingly losing a great deal of his confidence and at least a step or two. Now slower, he has to rely on traditional skills that might not actually be there. RG III has no rhythm to his passing, and can’t seem to anticipate a split-second opening in coverage. It’s hard to see how he’ll ever be good again.
Kaepernick hasn’t necessarily slowed, but he has been exposed for his lack of passing accuracy. He isn’t anywhere near as dangerous as he was the year he took San Francisco to the Super Bowl. Unlike Peyton Manning or Tom Brady, he is too quick to abandon the pocket, and unlike Aaron Rodgers – who had years to develop behind Brett Favre – Kaepernick has been forced to learn on the fly. This year, it would appear the learning curve has finally caught up with him.
And I would feel bad for Kaepernick or RG III if they seemed to have any desire for peace or personal space. No, they have what they were after, and it’s turning off their teammates and fans. It’s an ugly look. But celebrity doesn’t fade that easily, especially when you’ve made it your career. It’s easy to confuse being good with being portrayed as good. These guys are young, and love celebrity as much as anyone. It’s just that in this case, the celebrity they love turned out to be their own.