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The NFL Draft is the pinnacle for many players, most of whom have dreamed for years of having their name called by Commissioner Roger Goodell in front of millions of television viewers.
But as the players celebrated reaching the professional ranks in 2020, the broadcast zoomed in on their personal tragedy.
In one widely criticized example, when Clemson University wide receiver Tee Higgins was selected 33rd overall by the Cincinnati Bengals, he I put on my team hat and hugged my family A friend who sat next to him in Knoxville, Tennessee. ESPN showed viewers a graphic that spotlighted his mother’s past drug addiction, among other biographical details.
It’s a celebratory event enjoyed on television by millions of football fans, but with some such gloomy sides that can dehumanize those who should be its stars. For example, viewers learned that the sister of Denver Broncos 15th overall pick receiver Jerry Jeudy had died while in high school. The Indianapolis package introducing his Colts-acquired 34th receiver, Michael Pittman Jr., revealed his stutter. Cornerback Trevon Diggs, who was named with his 51st pick by the Dallas Cowboys, is known to have lost his father to heart failure in 2008.
Spotlighting the heartbreak in the lives of mostly black players, chosen by the producers of the broadcasts televised by ESPN and the NFL Network, was a so-called tragedy that was complacent and focused on personal trauma. was criticized for dealing with pornography.
“I still think it’s a big deal to admit the obstacles I had to overcome on my way to the NFL,” said Seth Markman, who has led ESPN’s draft coverage for 11 years. Apologies to Higgins “But what we realized that year was that we could probably do a little better job by striking the balance and making sure all the stories weren’t about those obstacles and backgrounds. If so, then everyone doesn’t have to be kind of clichéd storytelling, I guess it was that year.
Markman and NFL Network’s Charlie Yuk said they’ve become more careful not to see trouble in a prospect’s life over and over again.
“I don’t want anyone to cry every time,” Yook said. “This is a celebration of a dream come true. It’s not a game of pitfalls. We want to tell your story and it will be unique to the player.”
Indignantly called out isn’t the only part of the drafting process. When the NFL last year reassessed the training, medical tests, and physical measurements players receive before being drafted, black league vice president Troy Vincent said: reportedly to team owners The Scout Combine had the character of a “slave market”.
“We feel like it’s a holistic experience and we can talk to the players and make them better in certain aspects of it,” Vincent said of a meeting with team owners in March 2022. rice field. Bearing in mind that the combine is a player’s first experience in the National Football League and that experience must have dignity, it looks like something we could do. ”
The Scout Combine is an annual audition for 300 collegiate players who are interviewed by the team’s staff, undergo medical examinations, and perform drills in front of the team’s scouts and coaches. After widespread complaints from agents and players, including some prospects who refused to attend the event, the league is now holding workouts on one day instead of two.
Streamlined medical record sharing means players no longer have to take multiple tests. The interview process has also been standardized following complaints of intrusive questions.And the league last year stopped running the Wonderlic test, his 50-question IQ test that has long been criticized for racial and socioeconomic bias, and instead S2 cognitive test.
Players only have one full orthopedic exam and the results are presented to all 32 teams. There is no longer a built-in point of contact for teams to manage their own behavioral assessment tests.
Despite these changes, perhaps the most potentially dehumanizing aspect of the Combine remains: dozens of mostly white scouts assess physical attributes, so players can still skin during drills. I’m wearing clothes that fit well.
Longtime player-agent Joby Brunnion said the process has “a hint of slavery.”
He added: it’s not about you. That’s what your body looks like. ”
This year, 17 prospects will be in the first round of the draft in Kansas City, Missouri on Thursday, and the league will cover the airfare and hotel bills for the players and some of their family and friends. According to the NFL, the dressing room will feel more like a living room than the hard table setup used in past years, when some prospects waited in enclosed rooms.
According to Markman, the network has also reduced some of the close-up shots that players get frustrated while waiting for their name to be called.
Still, the night can quickly turn unexpectedly moody if a player’s name isn’t called out for hours or not at all. That stress and the potential for embarrassment has led to former offensive lineman D’Brickashaw Ferguson, former defensive lineman Chris Canti, and longtime agent Brad Blank, who has represented other top players in his top job. That’s why I tell his prospects to skip the draft.
“My advice to anyone is, ‘Don’t go. Stay home and don’t pressure yourself,'” he said.
However, some players ignored Blank’s advice because they saw the draft as a rite of passage, which included the chance to wear the new team’s cap, hold up the jersey, and hug Goodell on national television. I remembered the mother of one of our top prospects who strongly objected to our advice.
“She lashed out at me: ‘This is our moment. We’re going to go and hug the commissioner,'” Blank said.
According to Markman, ESPN began moving away from zooming in on players in the dressing room after quarterback Genno Smith sat through the entire first round in 2013 without being selected.
“Every time someone was picked, the camera would look at me and create a negative perception that wasn’t there,” Smith said.
Thinking his name wouldn’t be called out, Smith left before the first round ended so he could celebrate his mother’s birthday. However, his departure has led to suggestions that he is bitter.
“As TV producers, we knew this was going to get ratings and an interesting storyline. Make sure you have a camera with these guys,” Markman said. says Mr. Now, “You don’t have to show these kind of guys who are supposed to be having the best days of their lives and it turns into a nightmare. Let’s not take advantage of him in this situation.”
Smith, now with the Seattle Seahawks, said he didn’t know how he would be portrayed until later. bottom.
When The Jets drafted Smith in the second round, picking him 39th overall.when the camera followed him to shake hands with Goodell, he visibly exhaled, and his voice cracked when he described his relief in an interview.
Smith called to reassure him after seeing prospective first-round quarterback Malik Willis demoted to the Tennessee Titans in the third round last year. I told Lamar Jackson, who was the last player in the dressing room before picking him with the 2018 first-round final pick, that he should have gone higher. I sent them, ‘Let them pay.'”