The lead up to NFL Draft is a time to celebrate talented players, but first—we must drag them through the mud. Next week, the National Football League will hold its annual draft where young men, many of whom are African American, from colleges around the country will realize their dream of playing professional football. And just like anything else NFL-related, the draft has become a huge event that strains credulity. In the past, one round, or the first 32 picks were televised; now, over the course of three days, all seven rounds of the draft are televised. This year, a record number of 26 players will be flown to New York to have every flicker of happiness or disappointment that flashes across their faces captured by a live television camera.
But there’s more to the draft than a few days of pomp and circumstance. There is the hysterical lead up in which NFL writers and bloggers spend weeks developing mock drafts and scouting reports with varying degrees of credibility (if any at all). It’s also a time where sport writers-turned-armchair therapists assess the “character” and “intellect” of draft prospects to determine “potential risk”…a process which often amounts to nothing more than humiliating various—mostly Black—players and playing accomplice to team attempts to drive down a player’s value.
This time last year, North Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton was the target of a number of attacks on his abilities and character. Many writers claimed that they were certain Newton wasn’t worthy of being picked first, that he was “one read” (despite a playbook that indicated differently) and would struggle in a complicated NFL offense and cited the NCAA’s investigation into his father’s dealings as a red flag that he could be trouble. One writer went so far as to say Newton was too arrogant and had a “fake” smile. The criticism of Newton was over the top then, but once he broke numerous rookie offensive records, it looked even sillier in retrospect.
Unfortunately, the media’s mistake with Newton hasn’t stopped the unfair treatment of this year’s crop of young people. The most egregious attack thus far was on LSU’s Morris Claiborne whose wonderlic score was “leaked” by someone in the league. The wonderlic test is a dubious aptitude exam given to draft entrants and given the fact that in the past many very good players have scored low and bad players have scored high I, like many others, am not a fan of the test and think it should be scrapped completely. Especially since the scores—which are supposed to be strictly confidential—are typically only revealed when a player scores low. Rarely is the test a factor at all when players beat the averages.