Washington head coach Mike Shanahan and rookie phenom Robert Griffin III. (Flickr/Keith Allison)
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 that 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, twenty-first-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 a condition that would shame a public high school. As Chris Chase of USA 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.”