The latest tempest in a teapot comes courtesy of Washington Redskins’ quarterback Robert Griffin III and his San Francisco 49ers’ counterpart Colin Kaepernick, who recently took on critical fans via Instagram and Twitter respectively.
In RG’s case, he was jamming to Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean” on Instagram when a fan called him out for not acting like a quarterback.
Colin meanwhile tweeted a litany of “recovery day” activities – 1,000 abs, arm workout, 10 minutes straight on the jump rope, a two-hour study session. To which fan Stephen Batten replied, “ab workout won’t help find open receiver.” Which in turn led to a verbal pummeling from Colin that ended with “get better at life.”
My first reaction was, Why bother? Why bother to respond? In a 35-year career as a journalist, I’ve been praised and vilified, even threatened. Rarely have I responded, preferring instead to follow the dictum of my favorite British prime minister, Benjamin Disraeli: “Never complain, never explain.”
And yet, I can understand. The fluidity and anonymity of the Internet are such that people respond with immediate, unfiltered vehemence. You’re punched, you counterpunch.
I think, however, this is about more than the culture of hatred bred by the web. It’s about our expectations of the quarterback, perhaps the most traditionally masculine occupation in the United States – expectations that weigh heavily on the gay, biracial quarterback at the heart of my upcoming novel “The Penalty for Holding.”
Here’s RG’s critic, @cperezrn, on why he called him out for bebopping to “Billie Jean”:
"He cares more about his brand, social media than working in his craft. After the 2016 season respond back to me if I am wrong. He will be cut by the Redskins after those years. Brees, Brady, Rodgers, Manning don't act this way."
First, notice the idea – also present in the Colin criticism – that you have to be working “in your craft” every minute to be successful. There was even criticism that RG becoming a father will interfere with his game. (Hey, it hasn’t hurt Novak Djokovic.)
But perhaps even more disturbing is the subtext of @cperezrn’s comment that “Brees, Brady, Rodgers and Manning don’t act this way.” Might the implication be that this is because they’re white?
RG, Colin, even the more conventional Seattle Seahawks’ Russell Wilson are not the typical quarterbacks. They’re black or black-identified. They run. And – surprise, surprise – they have lives.
Which they’re not afraid to defend digitally.