Commentary: Robert Griffin III Is a Black College Athlete Who Defied the Odds

The Heisman Trophy winner is proof that you can be a great athlete and a great student.

Posted: 12/12/2011 05:39 PM EST
Robert Griffin III

It’s no secret that college sports, especially football, is currently in the toilet. If it’s not head-injury concerns or booster scandals, it’s people lying about pedophilia, like the tragedy that’s caused Penn State’s fall from grace. Enter Robert Griffin III, who, in the ugly world of NCAA football, is a great big breath of fresh air.

Griffin is a quarterback at Baylor, and this weekend he was honored with the Heisman Trophy, college football’s most revered individual award. Baylor is not known for its long list of standout football players — indeed, this is the school’s first Heisman — but Griffin is not an ordinary player. Though he didn’t begin his football career at QB, his coach spotted his potential early on and trained him to be one of the game’s most promising players. But while Griffin’s athleticism is what he’s most known, it’s his talents off the field that are perhaps most remarkable.

Despite all his commitments to his football team, Griffin maintains a 3.7 GPA and has already earned a bachelor’s degree. He’s now working on his master’s in communication, and he says that if he doesn’t enter the NFL draft, he’d like to go to law school. Griffin’s coach calls him “intellectually gifted,” and it’s clear how bright Griffin is when you hear him speak. “It's unbelievable and believable," Griffin said in his Heisman acceptance remarks. "It's unbelievable because in the moment, we're all amazed when great things happen. But it's believable because great things don't happen without hard work.”

We’ve told you before that Black-athlete graduation rates are terrible compared to their white counterparts. To which some argue that it’s simply not possible — too little time, too few resources, and so on — for tremendous athletes to be great students as well. Not only is that sort of logic silly, thanks to people like Griffin, it’s also demonstrably wrong. The only difference between Griffin and other Black athletes who end up dropping out of school is, as Griffin might say, hard work.


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