Ron Rivera delivers a new mantra: ‘Don’t make what’s interesting important’

Since Rivera said those words — meaning Washington’s chance to win the NFC East was important, while Haskins’s immaturity was merely int...

Since Rivera said those words — meaning Washington’s chance to win the NFC East was important, while Haskins’s immaturity was merely interesting — I have been trying to find any modern subject to which his aphorism doesn’t apply. I have failed. So let’s frame this Rivera’s way.

Sunday’s games involving Washington’s division title chances should be easy to enjoy and fun to watch. The Ravens, who are good, should beat the Giants, who are bad; Washington, defending the honor of Rivera, who was fired by Carolina last year, is a minuscule favorite over the Panthers (4-10), who have no motivation because their season is now null and void.

If that clinch combo cashes, Washington, a galactic pick to be awful, gets a home playoff game and can rest any or all of its three best skill players, all hobbled — Alex Smith, Terry McLaurin and Antonio Gibson — in Week 17.

But this is Washington, so nothing — sorry, Rivera — can be that simple. The Panthers game will be a test of culture. Some teams have gut checks or even December character exams. But Washington, which should be in a celebratory mood, will be evaluated on ETHOS.

“T” is for Team — the consideration that should always come first, unless you are …

“H” is for Haskins, who was stripped of his captaincy this week. Under the old Washington culture, if you’re the owner’s choice as the first-round draft pick, you are made captain in the hopes you will reverse previous habits and master the playbook, arrive early — that kind of stuff.

“O” is for Oy, which we say when we realize Rivera probably wanted to suspend Haskins for the season or even release him but had to mush-mouth and keep Haskins active because he can’t be sure Smith can play Sunday. A $40,000 fine to a player who has been guaranteed $14 million in NFL salary merely fines the coach’s rep.

“S” is for selfish, the character weakness, epitomized by both Snyder and Haskins, that almost always has cascading effects on innocent others.

What Haskins, who forgot that phones can catch you anywhere, didn’t realize is that he boxed Rivera into a choice of two “right” courses of action — both of them wrong.

On one hand, Rivera could do the right thing to improve team culture by disciplining Haskins appropriately — i.e., severely. Such an example might also establish some independence from Snyder for Rivera; Haskins is the fourth owner’s pet quarterback who has been jammed down the throat of a Washington coach, joining Jeff George, Donovan McNabb and Robert Griffin III.

On the other hand, Rivera could keep Haskins active, doing the right thing to reward his gritty team with its best division title chance and, more importantly, avoid putting 17-surgery Smith in a tough spot Sunday.

Haskins put Rivera in a lose-lose situation, which is what Snyder has been doing to his coaches for 21 years.

Washington’s vets are unlikely to miss the spin on Haskins’s actions. Early in the season, Rivera not only took away Haskins’s starting job but made him inactive behind Kyle Allen and Smith. Now Allen is out for the season with an ankle injury. So with Smith hobbling, Rivera has no choice but to tolerate Haskins or risk playing a practice squad quarterback with a division title in the balance.

In Ashburn, Snyder is always lurking in spirit, even if he is on his 305-foot yacht somewhere in the Aegean.

Any sentient coach would sense the undercurrents in play here. Haskins is Snyder’s pick. He went to the same high school as Snyder’s son, and he was touted to the owner by former Washington player Shawn Springs for years. Snyder longs for a genius football move that vindicates him.

And Snyder wants any moment of validation, even a modest one — such as an NFC East title with a losing record or a couple of key wins from Haskins — even more at this moment because he’s in the NFL fight of his life.

Yes, what is “important” — and in pro sports, winning division titles really is a measure that matters — again has run smack into what is merely “interesting,” the off-the-field story lines.

Bad behavior leads to subtexts and thought bubbles that hang over people and teams. Few have behaved worse than Snyder, who, in the latest installment, is dueling in court with three minority owners who want to sell their combined 40 percent stake in the team at what may be well below market value.

For more than 20 years, a perfectly normal cross-section of coaches and players has come through Washington, many respected, some knuckleheads and a few bad apples but not more than you would expect anywhere.

But what is “interesting,” which often means controversial or mean-spirited, undercuts every attempt to achieve what’s “important.”

Sports has a cliche for every occasion. They endure because, usually, they contain a lot of truth. “Winning is the best deodorant” hardly flatters victorious stinkers.

On Sunday, the Washington Football Team will be seen nationally as a franchise in its customary state of turmoil. The team with Football Team for a name will still have a skunk for an owner and a quarterback whose selfishness will remind some of us of ourselves on foolish days. But, that night, Washington may clinch the NFC East title.

Who would begrudge Rivera and Smith the chance to rise above this annual farce and build something solid — a brick in a wall that has crumbled so often?

Repeat: Don’t make what’s interesting important. Maybe the deodorant of victory will follow.

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Newsrust: Ron Rivera delivers a new mantra: ‘Don’t make what’s interesting important’
Ron Rivera delivers a new mantra: ‘Don’t make what’s interesting important’
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