Saturday, May 12, 2018

Jobs, Trump And The NFL Draft

As published in The County Times (

By Ronald N. Guy Jr.

Don’t let the title concern you, this isn’t about politics, per se.  What it does address is how technology and the current political environment have invaded the NFL Draft and left NFL executives grappling with inescapable facts.

I was raised to tell the truth.  “Bad news doesn’t age well” was the underlying advice.  Made a mistake?  Admit it, own it, request forgiveness and move on.  At best, carefully spun webs of lies, built to obscure undesirable facts, only delay and increase the pain.  At worst, exposed elaborate lies break trust and ruin reputations.

But there was always a youthful interpretation and application of that clear direction – because shades of gray were possible.  I grew up in a world where indiscretions could often be effectively messaged, if not completely concealed.  It was still a he said/she said time – no viral pictures, videos or social media trail.  In other words, unless you screwed up big, there was rarely hard evidence of typical adolescent excursions.    

Thanks to Steve Jobs and the proliferation of handheld, 24/7 everything devices, we are now under constant surveillance.  Add a little Mark Zuckerberg with various other social media offerings and suddenly a whimsical thought, frustrated expression or momentarily immature declaration is on the record - forever.  The content of yesterday’s conversations – because they were spoken face-to-face or over the phone – could be debated; today’s typed words and recorded acts cannot.

The NFL’s pre-draft navigation of this new social dynamic has been fascinating.  Not long ago NFL executives focused only on a prospect’s football measurables.  “Character research” was little more than a token interview and a few reference checks (parents, coaches, etc.).  And if there was a blip on the resume, teams could overlook it without concern of a viral media storm. 

That era of innocence is gone.

NFL executives adapted to present day realities, where their prized draftee can suddenly be caught in compromising YouTube videos or undermined by unbecoming Facebook posts from years before, by cranking up the vetting process and becoming obsessively risk averse.  It was an understandable response – why gamble your career on a “troubled’ kid when everyone knew, courtesy of modern media, that you knew prior to the draft that he was potentially the next Todd Marinovich or Ryan Leaf? 

But if the recently concluded NFL Draft is any indication, the winds of change just blew through NFL boardrooms.  Leonardtown native and Cleveland Browns GM John Dorsey picked crotch-grabbing, drunken-police-dodging QB Baker Mayfield with the number one overall pick.  The Buffalo Bills selected Josh Allen seventh overall, despite the discovery of racially insensitive tweets from high school.  And the Arizona Cardinal used the tenth pick on Josh Rosen, a prickly cat who seems more Jay Cutler than Peyton Manning. 

I get it.  No endeavor in life is without risk and ultimate success often requires a few well-played wildcards.  But I haven’t seen NFL teams so willing to accept risk this high in the draft and at the franchise pivot position of quarterback in a long time.  Is this the Trump Effect?  Has the POTUS set a new normal for behavioral transgressions?  Is what’s passable in politics now passable for the NFL? 

That’s a serious question – politics aside.  John F. Kennedy wouldn’t have gotten away with his personal blemishes had they been exposed in the early 1960’s.  Bill Clinton barely survived a relationship with an intern in the 1990s.  Now the president is having affairs with porn stars…and the predominant response to this one-time atrocity is an unremarkable “meh”.

This isn’t necessarily a moral commentary on society, but it does indicate that we’ve grown more accustomed to – and less shocked by – the truth.  You can’t hide from it anymore, so individually – as voters, NFL executives, parents and ordinary everyday citizens – we are left to parse known human imperfections, subject them to our own values or situations, and decide what is tolerable.  It’s an adaptation more than a shift or decay…but I still wouldn’t want my folks or prospective employers having full access to all the undeniable facts of my youth.  Who would?  Maybe that’s one perk of middle age…

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