Friday, April 4, 2014

The NFL Draft is What’s Wrong with Sports

On Wednesday afternoon, I treated myself to a sushi lunch. As I overdosed on spicy salmon, spicy tuna and something called a “Super Spicy Roll” – I like spicy, ok? – I kept glancing up at the one television behind the sushi bar locked into ESPN.

At first glance, they were talking about Jadeveon Clowney. They were upon second glance. And a third glance.

nfl draft 2014
Eventually they moved past Clowney, to a surely mind-numbing debate on whether a team should take the best quarterback or best player available. What a stupid debate to have. What if the best player available is a quarterback? Doesn’t the question change if you have a franchise QB? How can we discuss this in hypotheticals?

The segment on the draft lasted through my entire lunch, featuring the usual parade of ESPN analysts, former players and the immortal Mel Kiper. I walked away, shaking my head, and thanking my lucky stars we only had to deal with this for a couple more weeks.

Then I realized – we didn’t have two weeks left, we had more than a month left! Yes, the NFL pushed their draft back into May, which means this endless parade of mindless conversation is just getting started.

It’s tough to aptly describe how sports has changed in this country. The games, at times, are almost always secondary. Hell, this week in D.C. the Nationals started playing again and the Wizards clinched their first playoff berth in six years. What was the lead story? DeSean Jackson signing* with the local football team with the racist name.

*This morning on SportsCenter, an analyst was asked if it was a good signing. He responded, “Right now, yes.” Right now? He hasn’t even played a game yet!

But the NFL Draft, in one singular event, personifies all of the sports world’s ills. Sure, I’ve ranted about my growing dislike of the event before but it deserves a more thorough shellacking.

There was a time when I enjoyed the NFL Draft. It was a fun diversion on a Saturday afternoon. I remember playing 18 holes and spending the 19th hole watching Brady Quinn’s descent down draft boards. The NFL Draft was always a big deal, but it wasn’t all-consuming, overly-dissected deal.

The NFL Draft is perfect for 2014, which means it’s terrible. It plays into everything people like about social media. Namely, it’s impossible to be wrong!

Think about it – everyone and their brother have an opinion about Johnny Football. Other than the employees of NFL teams, none of these opinions matter. Even worse, none of these opinions will be proven right or wrong for years, by which time those opinions will mostly be long forgotten. Ron Jaworski can say he has Manziel in the third round and people get mad or agree and it absolutely does not matter.

Remember when I discussed the fallacy of debating in hypotheticals? Well that is perfect for today’s sports media. Mock drafts – oh, mock drafts – dominate the Internet right now. Each site has their own version, if not multiple versions. Each mock drafter, a Todd McShay or a Kiper, updates their mock drafts frequently. Teddy Bridgewater’s stock goes up and down on a daily basis based on absolutely nothing other than our undying need to change things.

The worst part of this whole fiasco is the manufactured storylines that have begun to invade the college football season. After Clowney’s Pro Day, many like Tony Dungy declared that Clowney should be the #1 pick. Clowney, whose speed, athleticism and freakish talent is second to none, has been the #1 pick from the moment he entered South Carolina. If he came out last year, he would have been the #1 pick. If a team selects someone other than Clowney at #1, their fans should riot.

But thanks to ESPN and the 24-hour spin cycle that is our world, Clowney’s draft stock has sunk and soared on a continually basis. Has it really? Doubtful. Anyone who watched Clowney fight off double and triple teams all year – and still make an impact – knew how good he was. That doesn’t attract clicks and page views though.

“Clowney is still the best” elicits a yawn.

“Sources: teams question Clowney’s motor” elicits endless retweets, spawns SportsCenter debates and provides fodder for yakfests like Around the Horn.

The NFL draft itself is a brutal viewing experience, complete with more forced debates, more contrived stories and instant analysis. Is there anything the sports media world enjoys more than instantly deciding something? Look back at any “draft grade” assigned to a team mere hours after the picks are made and some four months before any of them seeing a professional football field.

I could write another 1,000 words on the idocicy of making a movie about the NFL Draft, but one trailer full of clichés and bad acting should suffice. What kind of sad, pathetic person do you have to be to want to watch a movie about the NFL Draft, starring Kevin Costner?

The entire thing, from start to finish, is an exercise in the absurd. It becomes even more absurd when you realize just how little the results of the NFL Draft compared to the coverage of it.

Where was Russell Wilson drafted? Or Richard Sherman? Or Tom Brady? Or any other superstar that wasn’t a much-hyped pick? There are so many positions in football, so many variables, so many different things that come into play and such a reliance on free agency that the Draft really doesn’t matter.

Surely, it’s not the NBA or the NHL where a LeBron James or Sidney Crosby change a franchise forever. I mean, the list of #1 picks is filled with guys that didn’t end up meaning that much. Ditto for the #2 picks – do you remember Jason Smith or Robert Gallery?

Before I left for work this morning, Trey Wingo told me that there is no offseason in the NFL.

There is an offseason. They haven’t played a game in two months. They won’t play for another five.

Football has an offseason. The football media does not. Remember this as you’re scouring mock drafts and glued to your television to watch a three-day made-for-TV event that will ultimately end up meaning very little.

But hey, what a time to tweet!

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