‘Tebowing’ to ‘Griffining’? Pay attention … (update)

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As a rule, your GetReligionistas rarely dig into the work of columnists and essay writers. However, in sports coverage the lines are blurred between news and commentary to a degree that goes way beyond what happens in coverage of politics, economics or other major news topics. In sports, it’s even harder — if not impossible — to avoid the news content in the work of the columnists.

Also, I consider Rick Reilly of ESPN.com to be one of the most important sports writers working in today’s news marketplace. He’s a writer whose work offers tons of information, drawn from consistently great reporting, and lots of other sports scribes pay attention to what he produces. On top of that, he seems — I say this after watching his writing over the years — to be interested in the intersection of religious faith and sports.

Thus, I was interested in Reilly’s contribution — “Griffin off to super start” — to last week’s tsunami of coverage of the breakout first performance by Robert Griffin III of the Washington Redskins. I’ll state right up front that — since most of my family bleeds green and gold, plus I have a pair of Baylor University degrees on my wall — I am not a neutral guy, when it comes to RG3. He’s probably my second favorite Baylor Bear of all time, after the legendary Mike Singletary.

Griffin is also an intriguing guy because of the beliefs that are in his heart, as well as the ideas that are in his head. He is a vocal Christian, if not as outspoken as the missionary and social activist who is currently playing back-up quarterback for the New York Jets. Yet the mainstream press, both nationally and here in Washington, seems somewhat reluctant to look into the role of Griffin’s faith in his amazing life story.

This leads me to the following passage in that Reilly piece.

Reilly, to say the least, is famous for his eye for factual detail. Yet something is off in the following passage at the top of his RG3 feature. Can you spot it?

On the upper shelves of Robert Griffin III’s locker at Redskins Park are six plastic action superhero figures, including The Hulk and Spider-Man.

Well, why not? Griffin is something of an action superhero himself after exactly one game in the NFL. What else would you call a rookie who went into the bleeding-ear Superdome and shocked the New Orleans Saints, 40-32, to become the first QB in NFL history to be named Player of the Week in his first game as a pro?

If he’s not a superhero, then why are they selling Robert Griffin capes?

If he’s not a superhero, how come everybody wants to be exactly like him? “Griffining” has now overtaken “Tebowing” as the meme of choice in the USA — sitting on your butt and your two index fingers pointed to the sky, which Griffin did after he threw an 88-yard touchdown pass to Pierre Garcon to stun the Saints.

So “Griffining” consists of being knocked down and then signalling “touchdown” by pointing toward the sky with both hands. Right? This is, of course, something he did once in that first game.

But the whole idea of “Tebowing” is that Tebow’s prayer-on-one-knee gesture is something that he does all the time, over and over. It follows touchdowns, yes, and it follows victories. But it also follows defeats. It’s a gesture that he makes when meeting with a cancer patient on the post-game sideline, as well as after a playoff game miracle.

So what is the equivalent gesture with Griffin? What is the on-the-field gesture, or gestures, that defined him in the past and continues to this day? In effect, why is that one recent play the definition of “Griffining,” as opposed to the hundred or so other celebrations in his life? In fact, these other gestures were used during that win over the Saints.

So watch the video at the top of this post and see what you will. What did Reilly miss, or what did he choose to leave out? In fact, what is the major element of Griffin’s life that is missing from this whole Reilly essay, as well as from the symbolic opening anecdote?

In short, what is “Griffining” all about?

UPDATE: Oh no! Griffin elects to “Tebow” this time!

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About tmatt

Terry Mattingly directs the Washington Journalism Center at the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities. He writes a weekly column for the Universal Syndicate.

  • Chris Bolinger

    If Reilly is “interested in the intersection of religious faith and sports”, then it is a passing interest at most, especially when it comes to the faith and practices of traditional Christians. I would replace “interested in” with “ignorant of”.

  • tmatt

    Is that simply a statement based on this one article or are you responding to his work as a whole?
    If the latter, I would disagree. It is also crucial not to respond to a great journalist’s work simply on the basis of your disagreement with his point of view. In this case, you are dealing with one of the most talent and skilled journalists in sports news today.

  • John Bissell

    He seems to have left out the Catholic-Christain practice known as “The Sign of The Cross”.

  • Chris Bolinger

    Terry, I’ve read a fair bit of Reilly’s stuff. I actually stopped reading his stuff for a while after this particularly lamentable column: http://sports.espn.go.com/espn/news/story?id=6136707. And I quote:
    “Does any wrong-headed decision suddenly become right when defended with religious conviction? In this age, don’t we know better? If my God told me to poke the elderly with sharp sticks, would that make it morally acceptable to others?

    “And where does it say in the Bible not to wrestle against girls? Or compete against them? What religion forbids the two-point reversal?”

    Stay classy, Rick.

    I am not disputing that Reilly is a “talent and skilled” sports journalist. I simply stated that he comes off as relatively ignorant of the faith and practices of a fairly large number of religious folks. If you want a talented and skilled sports journalist who gets religion, then you can do a lot better than Reilly. Try Terry Pluto. He doesn’t go out of his way to poke a segment of his readership with sharp sticks.


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