By Ronald N. Guy Jr.
The NFL Draft process is exhaustive. It appears to start as each season concludes and officially begins, in earnest, with the NFL Combine in early March. In reality, the genesis of draft day for teams can trace back years, sometimes to when a prospect was learning to drive and attending proms. For players, the trail can be even longer, back to a childhood dream and dusty backyards in neighborhoods nationwide.
NFL teams actually draft a fraction of the total prospects evaluated – each team is just one of 32 franchises. A far slimmer margin of kids harboring NFL aspirations, those who daydream through math class about what plays to run at recess, make it all the way to the league.
With that backdrop, it is no surprise that once a team is actually on the clock and finally calls out a name, executives in draft war rooms erupt with jubilant high fives and players, who have instantly fulfilled what is likely a life-long goal, are overcome with emotion.
It never gets old seeing kids celebrating their selections – the moment when dreams become reality. Awesome stuff. But the process is ridiculous. NFL Draft vernacular includes things like arm length, “base” strength, upper body “punch”, hand size, speed, shuttle and cone drills, bench presses and squats, vertical and broad jumps, fast twitch, mean streak and closing speed. Then there’s the psychological stuff – Wonderlic tests and interviews with questions that range from intentionally inflammatory to the completely unfair (and irrelevant).
But of more recent vintage is a fixation on “football players” and determining whether a young man “loves the game” (or, I suppose, just plays it because he can). More directly, teams want to know if a prospect has an unhealthy obsession with football and will forsake nearly all other things in life for it. If a kid has another interest – like Washington draftee Bryce Love (who wants to be a doctor) or Chargers draftee Jerry Tillery (a well-traveled young man living well beyond the football bubble) – NFL executives have commitment suspicions.
There might be something to it – greatness and a singular focus are frequently acquainted attributes. I watched a PBS documentary on Boston Red Sox legend Ted Williams recently. Dude was obsessed with hitting – studied it, cataloged information, filed and “boned” his own bats. Way ahead of his time…and one of the greatest hitters ever. Bruce Springsteen worked himself to exhaustion and laid waste to relationships, all in the (successful) pursuit of the best damn music he could create. Tiger Woods, fair to say, had an unhealthy, but historically successful, fascination with golf. Former Washington Hall of Fame coach Joe Gibbs notoriously slept at the team’s facility throughout the season (and burned out after 12 years). Masters of one thing they all were; jacks of many things they likely were not.
I laud (I think) any NFL prospect with such laser focus on the game. These times are the attention deficit era, set up, with 24/7 connectivity, to distract and multitask. How any 22-year-old football player is supposed to be completely consumed with his craft escapes me. Last weekend’s glorious weather had me struggling to focus on this piece.
Moreover, we Americans tend to be a restless lot. We are curious, adventurous and bold. Witness: Some of the best songs ever written are stories about youthful angst, daring exploration and challenges to social norms - Springsteen’s “Born to Run”, Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On”, Bob Dylan’s “Blowin’ in the Wind”, Sam Cooke’s “A Change is Gonna Come” and, one of recent vintage, Ed Sheeran’s “Castle on the Hill”, just to name a few. All football, all the time? In your early 20s? When we’re born to run? What’s going on indeed.
Nevertheless, many of the NFL’s latest additions are incredibly focused and fully committed to football (within reason). They wouldn’t have gotten this far otherwise. Are they myopic and otherwise ill-informed? Most probably are not. And good for them. Football is, well, just football. Developing well rounded, thoughtful and informed young men, who may soon achieve influential fame, is far more important. The NFL could stand to be more focused on that.
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