Spot the ghost: An X factor for QB Russell Wilson?

While things are not going very well in his second playoff game with the Seattle Seahawks (writing at halftime), it’s pretty clear that the amazing success of the undersized, yet tough as nails, quarterback Russell Wilson has been one of the National Football League’s most amazing stories this year.

The Washington Post produced a profile of the rookie the other day, which ran within days of a similar story — the latest of many — about another amazing rookie, Washington’s Robert Griffin III.

In both cases the stories tried to explain the amazing leadership skills possessed by these two young men, the almost supernatural ability they have to remain calm and to lead others.

The bottom line: What’s so different about these guys, I mean, other than the fact they are African-Americans, academically brilliant and have unusual levels of talent? Might the X factor have something to do with their backgrounds and, well, the way their lives revolve around their families and their faith?

Consider this part of the Post take on Wilson:

Wilson is undersized. He speaks in cliches. He talks about faith and family. He doesn’t hit the town with teammates, and many nights he’s in bed by 9 p.m.

“He’s always serious, even when we’re not supposed to be serious,” Seattle fullback Michael Robinson said. “That’s a good thing.”

“He’s pretty much all work and no play,” tight end Anthony McCoy added.

I don’t know about you, but this passage seems to be suggesting that there is a moral component to Wilson’s early success. And that “faith” reference? Might there be a follow-up question there?

Nope. Apparently not.

The story does, however, do move on to do a pretty good job of sketching out the importance of his heritage:

Russell Wilson’s family tree is rooted in special. His grandfather was president of Norfolk State University, and his grandmother was a college professor. His uncle went to Harvard Law School and is an accomplished Washington attorney, and his father studied law at Virginia and practiced in Richmond. …

Wilson attended the Collegiate School in Richmond and played football there for Charlie McFall. Though his talent was undeniable, football seemed to have a ceiling. Tom Holliday, N.C. State’s associate head baseball coach, first saw Wilson play baseball as a junior and he had no doubts. “He was a major league baseball prospect,” Holliday said. “He was probably a football player who could maybe make football work because he was so athletic. But you could see a future in baseball.”

Wilson attended N.C. State and played both sports. Several members of his family had competed collegiately, including his father, Harrison Wilson III, who played football and baseball at Dartmouth. In fact, Harrison III attended training camp and played in the 1980 preseason with the San Diego Chargers, reportedly one of the last players cut.

Wilson’s father was a guiding influence but he became sick midway through Wilson’s time at N.C. State. Still, he followed Wilson’s exploits from afar.

Harrison Wilson III died in 2010, about the time his son was drafted to play major-league baseball. Losing his father seemed, at a crucial moment, to have further fueled the son’s drive to push for excellence.

There was some other connection there between father and son, something that shows up at the very end of this lengthy report:

Family members say Harrison III passed along so much to his youngest son: resilience, faith, a strong work ethic, a positive attitude. “You can’t watch Russell play and not see his father,” said Ben Wilson, the quarterback’s uncle.

The childhood lessons are still evident, even as Wilson prepares to walk onto the biggest stage of his career. It’s difficult to remain under the radar in the playoffs, and Wilson says he’s ready for the attention and scrutiny.

“My dad used to always tell me, ‘There’s a king in every crowd,’ ” Wilson said. “What that means is, with my faith, God is always watching me. With my dad passing away, he’s always watching me — a big smile on his face, watching every snap on the 50-yard line. And then you never know what coach or GM is watching you. And the main thing that always stuck with me, you never know what kid is watching you, what kid wants to be like you.”

Now, does anyone else think it’s rather unusual that — with faith clearly a crucial mix in this family’s heritage — the story does absolutely nothing to explore that fact, to at least identify the nature of that faith? In other words, does the faith factor deserve ANY journalistic attention, in terms of facts and symbolic details? How about the moral component of Wilson’s success and leadership?

Just saying. There is a ghost here, once worth exploring.

Oh, by the way, check out the corresponding Post profile of Griffin that ran during that week. See any similarities there? Any patterns? Here’s a sample:

It is an intangible skill — the ability to possess humility and self-confidence in equal proportions — one that has tripped up countless other would-be leaders in professional sports. …

Griffin came in with a plan, and at least to the extent that events have transpired, it has worked to perfection. The Redskins are a team molded in his image: prepared, confident and full of belief in their mission. By lining themselves up behind their 22-year-old leader, the Redskins have allowed Griffin to lead them, if not to the promised land, then right to the edge of it.

Humility mixed with confidence. Interesting.

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.

  • Roberto

    All you have to do to see “the ghost” is read Wilson’s Tweets — his Christian faith is upfront. I don’t follow Twitter and I’ve heard about them. Is this really that hard for the Post and others. The same is true of Colin Kaepernick who wears his faith on — or more accurately, under — his sleeves.


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