Mike Wise is a sports journalist for The Washington Post. A sports journalist who I have never been able to get a proper read on.
Last year, after making a once-in-a-blue-moon appearance at a Washington Capitals game, Mike wrote a piece about the team that I fervently disagreed with. I felt it to be shallow, and obviously written from the perspective of an under informed journalist who had a deadline to meet, and was covering the team simply because they were the only thing on the journalistic menu that night. No passion, no vigor. Just flat words, designed for controversy.
Mike had the good grace to defend his article to me via Twitter, which I appreciated, regardless of our differing views. In the weeks that followed, he wrote several pieces that resonated soundly with me. They were full of wonderful, emotional writing, with compelling perspectives and sound research. Granted, none of this writing was about the Caps, but still it cemented my respect.
Then today happened.
After Wednesday practice at Redskins Park, Robert Griffin III took the podium for his weekly press conference. But this time around, the anticipation was greater than usual. After all, the star quarterback missed last week with an injury. The team has fought its way to the division lead and holds the inside lane to the playoffs. Most expect Griffin to take the field this weekend against the Eagles, but the Redskins have remained competitively coy regarding their quarterback’s knee.
Wednesday marked the first time Griffin spoke to the media since the Redskins’ victory over Cleveland three days ago. The press conference was a light-hearted one, as Griffin fielded questions about his knee, and though his answers were thinly veiled— not revealing details— it quickly became apparent that he expected to be back under center for this Sunday’s game against Philadelphia. Reporters asked about Griffin’s playoff optimism. They asked after the team’s 3-6 start, and Griffin’s thought process as a captain as his team faced that adversity. They asked about fellow rookie Kirk Cousins’ performance against the Browns, and they asked about his silly haircut (which Cousins himself addressed during a presser of his own).
That’s when Wise decided to pipe up, affecting the lofty mood of the media room with jaw-clenching awkwardness like a process server showing up at the door with a subpoena.
“You had to, um, unfairly negotiate some racial, um, barrier landmines lately,” Wise led into his question. “Have you thought about, um, what it’s like to play for a team named the Redskins, since many American Indians believe the term to be derogatory?”
The question was approximately as relevant to that moment as Mark Hammill after Return of the Jedi.
Wise was referring to now-suspended ESPN anchor Rob Parker’s statements that, among other things, Griffin is a “cornball brother”, and because he has a white fiancé, is not “down with the cause”, like other African Americans.
As Wise clumsily stumbled over his own question, Griffin’s eyes widened, likely realizing where the question was heading. Griffin is, of course, as silvertongued an athlete to ever grace the Washingtonian area. But to this spectator, his visage seemed to channel the following sentiment: Is this guy really about to ask me this fucking question?
Griffin smartly brushed the loaded question aside, stating that he wasn’t qualified to speak on the topic and quickly moved on to the next reporter’s attention.
But one has to wonder, what the hell was Mike Wise thinking? He’s been one of The Washington Post’s most public, successful sports journalist since he was brought on in 2004. Since then, the Redskins— easily the most visible franchise that the paper covers— haven’t exactly had their way with success. They’ve made the playoffs only twice in that time, and have squandered their draft picks, wrongly utilized their free agents, and kept the NFC East cellar wrong for most of that time. But after drafting Griffin III in April, the Redskins are now 8-6, having won five consecutive games, and with two weeks left in the season are primed to win their division for the first time since 1999.
But instead of running with the Washingtonian excitement, Wise chose an attempt at furthering his own tired narrative. Wise is an admitted supporter of changing the team’s name, which has been in place since 1937. Wise has written in the Post about the name on multiple occasions. A quick Google search for “Mike Wise on Redskins name” turns up articles from 2005, 2009, and 2011. Who knows how many other articles full of recycled content slipped through that search query? Apparently, in the midst of the most impressive regular season run the Redskins have put on since Wise began covering the team, he still cannot dream up an original narrative. One, perhaps, that he did not write about last season.
Besides, what did he think Griffin was going to say? The following is my interpretation of Mike Wise’s daydream as swung his car into the Redskins Park parking lot, meticulously rubbing sunscreen lotion on his head.
“Robert. You were brave and heroic in the face of unwarranted criticism this past week. Do you have any opinions on the origin of the name Redskins— a title that I, you should know, actively oppose!”
Robert cranes his neck and takes Wise into his gaze, admiration and respect glinting in his suddenly somber eyes. “I am so glad you asked me that question, Mike Wise. And before I answer, I would like to compliment your pate, upon which the sun glints majestically, as if you are its golden child, sent forth to ask this very question. Yes, my opinions on the name of this franchise are strong. I am well researched, and have spent much time meditating with the chiefs of the offended tribes. My passion is so deep, demanding so much of my cerebral capacity, in fact, that my knowledge of the playbook has suffered. If the name were changed, my mind would be free. Never would I have scrambled on a 2nd and long to Haloti Ngata’s side of the field if we were simply called the Washington Mikewises!
In fact, I urge my fans— the very people of Washington— to embrace now that which they have given exactly zero shits about before— Mike Wise’s completely exhausted extolling of his own views through a national publication.
Oh, shit. Maybe the daydream ended a bit before that last part.
I’m not the only one who thought Wise was out of line today, and he faced a select few of his critics on Twitter today. One fan told Wise he’d be better off leaving racial issues out of the press conferences and focusing on football. Wise responded by sarcastically responding, “I should have asked him if he would be okay playing for a team called the Blackskins,” as if this response was at all pertinent to the inciting comment. It was not the only time Wise used this seemingly irrelevant response to fans that questioned his motives.
Regardless of the controversy regarding the political correctness of Washington’s team name, which has not changed a damn since Wise wrote about it in 2011, 2009, or 2005, it’s clear the journalist was pushing his own agenda, and was hoping to use the hyper-media conduit of Robert Griffin III to power his own opinions.
Anyone who gives a damn in this town will listen to every word out of Griffin’s mouth. Unfortunately for Wise, Griffin identified him for what he was: a pot-stirrer who spends more time tweeting fake news stories than generating compelling narratives about the teams his audience loves.